Jimmy Scott, a unique voice

Jimmy Scott
Fri, 1925-07-17

Jimmy Scott was born on this date in 1925. He was an African American singer.

Scott grew up in Cleveland, and was one of ten children. Scott’s mother was killed in an auto accident when he was 13, and the children were sent to foster care.

Scott never experienced puberty, the result of Kallmann's Syndrome, a hereditary hormonal deficiency that stunted his growth, leaving him with a high, undeveloped voice, hence his nickname "Little" Jimmy Scott. As a child, jazz and vaudeville shows were his primary sources of entertainment; he also listened to Paul Robeson spirituals on the radio.

As an artist he had pianist and band leader Tadd Dameron and trumpeter Benny Bailey as mentors from the Cleveland club scene. Scott first went on the road in Caldonia's Revue in 1943. Estelle "Caldonia" Young was like a mother to young Scott. He credits his lyrical approach to Billie Holiday’s influence. The deep spiritual quality of Scott’s style draws on his mother’s singing spirituals in church. Scott feels that spirituals demand such meaningful expression, and shouldn’t be performed merely for dramatic effect.

His big break came in 1949, when Lionel Hampton hired him and billed him as "Little Jimmy Scott." "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," recorded at Scott's second session with Hampton, gave the singer his first and only chart hit. Good fortune though took a tragic turn when Scott and Ray Charles “got mixed up in a confrontation” with Scott’s previous record company. Through cruel legal tactics, Scott's former label prohibited Charles from selling his new record. The company obstructed Scott’s career for over 20 years. Thus he spent long periods away from the microphone, working as a hotel shipping clerk and as a caretaker for his ailing father.

In the late 1980s he returned to the New York nightclub scene, and his career took off. This work led to a contract with Sire Records in 1991, where he made two critically acclaimed collections of jazz standards: "All the Way" (1992) and "Dream" (1994). Scott's album, "Heaven" (1996) on Warner Brothers Records was also well received.

Jimmy Scott's career has spanned nearly 60 years, and in that time he has performed with a list of artists that reads like a history of jazz music of that time, including Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Ray Charles, Wynton Marsalis, and Peter Cincotti. He has also performed with a host of musicians from other genres of music, such as David Byrne, Lou Reed, Flea, Michael Stipe, and Antony & The Johnsons. Most recently he has appeared in live performances with Pink Martini, and continues to perform to audiences internationally at music festivals and at his own concerts.

In 2007 Scott received the 2007 National Endowment Jazz Master Award, he with his wife Jeannie moved to Las Vegas in 2007. Jimmy Scott, a jazz singer whose distinctively plaintive delivery and unusually high-pitched voice earned him a loyal following and, late in life, a taste of bona fide stardom, died in June, 2014 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 88.

The cause was cardiac arrest, his wife, Jeanie Scott, said

Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America, 1930-1975
by Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books
ISBN 0-8230-8314-4

To Become a Musician or Singer

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Scott, Jimmy