Jul 19, 2011 08:00 PM
For six decades, vocalist Jimmy Scott (formerly known as “Little Jimmy Scott,” the nom de plume given to him by Lionel Hampton) has been considered one of the world’s best singers. In fact, none other than Billie Holiday named Scott as her favorite vocalist. Although, he was “perhaps the most unjustly ignored American Singer of the 20th century,” according to Joseph Hooper in a New York Times Magazine profile, Scott has influenced and continues to be admired by many recording artists of all musical genres. He’s been an influential figure to such popular entertainers as Nancy Wilson, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown; actor Joe Pesci, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Bonnie Raitt. Nonetheless, this highly acclaimed balladeer found it difficult to ascend his cult status. Once revered only by the most knowledgeable of jazz aficionados, it was not until 1992 that Scott was able to mount a successful comeback after suffering decades of obscurity.
Scott’s wavering, ethereal contralto vocal range, much closer in pitch to that of a woman than a man, is one of the most unusual and stunning vocal deliveries in post-war music history.
Born in 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio where he got his first big break in 1949 when Lionel Hampton hired him as the “featured vocalist” with his big band orchestra. Scott achieved fame in 1950 with the ballad “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”. His success continued throughout the next decade notably with his hit recording in 1955 of the old Bing Crosby favorite from 1933 “When Did You Leave Heaven” a song Scott made his own.
After a fifteen year absence from the recording industry due to a contractual dispute with Savoy Records, in 1991 producer Seymour Stein of Sire/Warner label heard Scott sing at the funeral of Doc Pomus and practically signed him on the spot. The Grammy-nominated All The Way album was followed by world tours which introduced Jimmy Scott’s magic to a new legion of fans.
In 2007, Scott received the highest honor in Jazz with the National Endowment of the Arts “Jazz Master” award, the Kennedy Center’s Jazz In Our Time “Living Legend” award and N.A.B.O.B.’s “Pioneer” award.
Today, Scott resides in Las Vegas with his wife Jeanie, enjoying the high desert climate of the southwest away from the harsh cold winters of his native Cleveland; he continues to tour the U.S., Europe, & Japan with his quartet “The Jazz Expressions,” led by his long time musical director and bassist Hilliard Greene.
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