Statement on the Death of Influential Author, Critic and Musician Greg Tate
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Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), released the following statement today, Dec. 9, on the death of Greg Tate, influential author, journalist and musician whose works amplified Black music, art and culture, at the age of 64.
“It is with great sadness that we at the National Museum of African American History and Culture mourn the passing of Greg Tate. Tate taught many of us how to write and even to think—musically, improvisationally, poetically. Starting with his writing for the Village Voice, first gathered in his book Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America, Tate’s cultural criticism has long served as a North Star for those championing artistic freedom, cultural complexity and Black excellence. His incredible legacy is felt in the museum’s celebration of the radical richness of Black music, film, literature and thought.”
Aptly nicknamed the “Godfather of Hip-Hop Journalism,” Tate was revered by many for his trailblazing work as a cultural critic who captured the dynamic and ever-changing landscape of Black music. Whether he was covering the avant-garde sounds of Jimi Hendrix or the politically charged messages of Public Enemy, Tate was able to offer a unique perspective that resonated with so many. Throughout his journalism career, Tate wrote for various publications, starting out with Village Voice in 1987, and then later writing for other music-centered publications such as Vibe and Spin. In 2017, Tate reviewed the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture for ARTnews, writing that “the museum is a quintessential, fatefully timed statement about America’s ongoing love and apprehension of its African descendants.”
More than simply a chronicler of Black music and culture, Tate was also a musician himself. In 1985, he co-founded the New York-based artists’ collective The Black Rock Coalition and was the leader of the improvisational band, Burnt Sugar, since 1999.
In addition to writing about music for publications and making music, Tate authored and contributed to many books, including Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story (2019), Miles Davis: The Complete Illustrated History (2012) and Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America (1992). Tate was also a visiting professor of Africana studies at Brown University and Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies.
Tate will be remembered by many for his multifaceted personhood: tripling as a writer, musician and educator. Whether he was playing the guitar, reviewing an album or giving a lecture, one thing about Tate was consistent: he was a storyteller who left an indelible mark on Black music and culture.
About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 7.5 million in-person visitors and millions more through its digital presence. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.
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