Updated at 5:50 p.m. ET, April 5 — As a journalist and television producer, Gil Noble worked to dispel negative images of African Americans in media. The notable host of the long-running public-affairs program Like It Is also pushed for clear ethics and objectivity in journalism. According to WABC-TV, he "passed away peacefully after a long illness," this morning, at the age of 80. Noble had suffered a stroke in July 2011.
"Gil Noble's life and work had a profound effect on our society and culture," said WABC-TV President and General Manager Dave Davis in a released statement. "His contributions are a part of history and will be remembered for years to come. Today, our hearts are with Gil's family, his wife Jean and their five children, and we thank them for so lovingly sharing him with the world all these years." WABC anchor Diana Williams, who posted the news on Twitter and Facebook, noted that Noble had taught her a lot. "Gil Noble was a giant in broadcasting who reminded generations of newscasters who followed in his footsteps that we have a responsibility to tell it 'like it is'. His loss cannot be calculated personally or professionally," noted New York Association of Black Journalists vice president of broadcast Cheryl Wills, who is also an anchor for NY1.
According to WABC-TV, Noble's family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Gil Noble Archives, P.O. Box 43138, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043. "Proceeds will be used to preserve the archives so that Noble's mission of educating the community about its culture and history will continue," reports the station.
Born on Feb. 22, 1932, in Harlem, N.Y., Noble was raised by Jamaican immigrants Gilbert and Iris Noble. Growing up influenced by jazz pianist Erroll Garner, young Noble took up the piano and decided as a teen to pursue a career in music. He even formed the Gil Noble Trio, playing in New York clubs while attending City College. (His love of jazz would later lead him to become a strong supporter of the Jazz Foundation of America and join its board of directors.)
After graduating, he went on to work for Union Carbide and modeled part time. He met his future wife, Jean, also a model, at this time.
Noble got his first break in broadcast media in 1962, when he became a part-time announcer for Harlem radio station WLIB. He soon began reporting and reading newscasts as well as servicing the Associated Press teletype machine. He also tracked interview tapes.
In 1967 he auditioned for a reporter job with WABC television news. He was hired after completing his second assignment: covering the riots in Newark, N.J.'s Central Ward. The National Guard had blocked off and isolated blacks within the area, but Noble was able to cross the barricade and get the story from the perspective of the people living in the community.
Noble was promoted to weekend anchor in 1968. He was also an occasional interviewer on some of the station's public-affairs shows, like Eyewitness Exclusive. That same year, after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, the station developed a show — Like It Is — that was centered on black America. Actor Robert Hooks was the show's first host, while Noble was the interviewer, but Noble was named the host after Hooks left for an acting job.
The weekly show was mostly entertainment driven until 1975, when Noble became the producer. He switched the show's focus to weightier issues. Over the years, he interviewed leading figures from across the Diaspora, from government and politics to sports and entertainment — luminaries such as Jamaica's Michael Manley, Guinea's Ahmed Sékou Touré and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe; Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Louis Farrakhan and Stokely Carmichael; Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Arthur Ashe; and Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne and Dizzy Gillespie.
Noble also started working on documentaries in 1977, which became the focus of his career — and the most rewarding part of it. Such films, he said, "remain a powerful weapon to change false values, correct historical error and cure the poison of prejudice in the minds of black and white Americans."
His first documentary, The Tallest Tree in Our Forest — which he wrote, directed and produced — was on the life of Paul Robeson. He would go on to tell the stories of other historic figures, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Jack Johnson and Charlie Parker.
In 2002, fans helped save Like It Is from cancellation by holding rallies to show their support.
During his career, Noble received more than 650 community awards, seven Emmys, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists and five honorary doctorates.
Monée Fields-White is a Los Angeles-based writer.