Gil Noble: The Man Who Told It 'Like It Is'

He was dedicated to preserving black American culture as a journalist, TV host and documentarian.

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Gil Noble loved him some Harlem.

He loved the way Harlem talks, as when Chuck Berry rushed back onstage in his lounge slippers after a break at the Apollo Theater in the '60s and heard a rock 'n' roll fan yell upstage: "You need you some shoes, Chuck!"

Noble loved the way Harlem laughs, spins jazz and cries as it perpetually stares down death. He loved how Harlem always gets down with life, a life vigorously defended on the streets over the years by such activists as Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Eddie "Porkchop" Davis, Carlos Cooks, James Baldwin, John Henrik Clarke -- and most of all, Malcolm X.

Growing up with these prophets teaching hope and with Harlem making jazz, Noble, who died on Thursday following a massive stroke last July, was 80. He dedicated his life's work to preserving this rich American culture as a broadcast journalist, TV host and documentary maker.

For more than four decades, Noble was a potent force in New York television, co-anchoring WABC-TV news early on -- following the urban riots of the 1960s -- as he produced and hosted one of the first black public-affairs programs, Like It Is. His deft chronicling of current and historical events and personalities attracted a fiercely loyal following that occasionally rose up to defend the show from forces seeking to silence Gil Noble.    

As did other African-American achievers of his era, Noble launched his career late and not without struggle.

At 6 feet 5 inches, the handsome Harlemite earned his way early on as a model, marrying his model bride Jean, in Moscow in 1959, with the U.S. ambassador in attendance. Settling down in Harlem with a young family, he worked as a bank clerk and part-time pianist with his Gil Noble Trio as he earned a degree from City College of New York. 

He was tempted by broadcast journalism after taking a course in announcing school and working a stint of radio and TV voice-overs. After "striking mud" at a few stations, the 30-year-old prospect was hired in Harlem at white-owned, black-oriented WLIB radio by news director Bill McCreary, a broadcast pioneer who later moved to TV.

Initially, Noble shunned the lecturing of Malcolm X as a plague out on 125th Street; after Malcolm's assassination, however, he doubled back to the laser-sharp message with profound regret that he had avoided in the flesh what became his single greatest influence in spirit.

"Malcolm changed my life," he would say fondly and often. "[His] autobiography did more than acquaint me with his life -- it motivated me to study history. Malcolm made it clear that his power and effectiveness came from knowledge.

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