Elegy to a Flyboy

Paying respects to Greg Tate, the man who gave music journalism its groove

The Apollo pays homage to Greg Tate (Image: Apollo)

Upon hearing about the passing of Greg Tate I immediately put on some 24-7 Spyz (1992’s Strength in Numbers with Jeff Brodnax on lead vox).

I did so in honor of a man who spent his life supporting, promoting and writing about bands like Jimi Hazel and the aforementioned Spyz, Living Colour, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Defunkt, Follow For Now, Bad Brains, Justin Warfield, Basehead, Urban Dance Squad, Chocolate Genius, Fishbone, AR Kane, The Veldt and other groups I learned about thanks to his coverage in the papers and his work with the Black Rock Coalition.

In his signature essay “Flyboy in the Buttermilk,” Tate illustrates why he has been (and will continue to be) such an inspirational force for young writers of all colors and creeds in the way by which he is able to interject so much history into a single paragraph.

“My maternal grandfather used to say, Son, no matter where you go in this world and no matter what you find, somewhere up in there you will find a Negro,” he wrote. “Experience has yet to prove him wrong, especially where the avant-garde is concerned. In Wilfredo Lam we had our Cubist adventurer. Ted Joans, Bob Kaufman, and LeRoi Jones bopped heads with the Beats. The British Invasion got vamped on by Jimi Hendrix while Arthur Lee and Sly Stone were spear-chucking protopunk and funk into San Francisco’s psychedelic Summer of Love. Bad Brains reclaimed Rasta and hardcore rock and roll from the punks. And we won’t even get into separating the Black aesthetic inspirations for all these movements, or raising up the counterhegemonic monu­ment that is Black cultural difference.”

Greg Tate (Image: Simon & Schuster)

Looking back on some of his old articles online, I’m surprised to discover how much my own writing style has been subconsciously inspired by Greg Tate. I love that middle ground between street talk and academia. And while many of the scribes I’ve grown up reading (a few of whom currently contribute to Rock & Roll Globe btw), it was a kick to recognize just how much GT is baked into my style–even though I’ve never really tried to directly cop another one’s flavor.

Meanwhile on my feeds, the sorrow and tributes flowed freely all week from the literary and journalism worlds on social media.

“I’m not ready for a world without Greg Tate,” wrote guitarist Ben Tyree, who played alongside Tate in the writer’s magnificent jazz group Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. “He was a dear friend and bandleader without whom I would not have the life I have now by any stretch of the imagination. One of the kindest, most loving people I’ve ever known, Greg personally gave me many gifts: space, acceptance, acknowledgment, mentorship. I owe so much of how my life has unfolded and character developed to him and my journeys with Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. This is going to take a while to process. More needs to be said. Thank you, GT.”


VIDEO: Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber “Conduction no. 5”

Another lovely eulogy came from veteran music journalist Miles Marshall Lewis, who went deep on a Facebook post about his love and appreciation for his old friend and colleague.

“Someone gave me his # for a Meshell Ndegeocello story I wrote for The Source,” he recalls. “Told me to call him at 2:00 am, and there he was: available, wide awake, full of brilliance for a 25-yr-old kid he didn’t know. Young padawans with the pen all tried to write like him and failed; it’s how we found our village voices.

“For years, I lived in Harlem right between him & my dad on Edgecombe Ave, and that felt right,” he continued further into the post. “I watched him & my dad in Questlove’s Summer of Soul this year, and that felt right too. Proud son of Tate right here, one amongst many many. I’ll never get to yell ‘TATE!’ down the block when I see him coming first again; that gets me choked up.”

I’ve been listening to the new Burnt Sugar album and had been wanting to set up an interview with Greg through his wonderful publicist and longtime friend Howard Wuelfing, knowing I’d have the opportunity to speak to a guy so key in the development of my writing voice. And it breaks my heart that conversation will never happen. 

Yet I remain ever so grateful to have had this man’s presence in my life. As a teen, I was naturally drawn to the New York City he brought to life through his words in the same way Spike Lee did with his movies and Marley Marl on the radio.

RIP Mr. Tate. Thanks for raising me right and making me a better listener and a better writer.


VIDEO: What Does The Afrofuture Say with Greg Tate


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Ron Hart

Ron Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and Roll Globe. Reach him on Twitter @MisterTribune.

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