Jimmy Scott, whose distinctively high contralto voice-caused by a rare genetic condition called Kallmann’s syndrome-gave his music a purity and youthfulness even into old age, died June 12 in his sleep at his Las Vegas home. His death, the cause of which was cardiac arrest, was confirmed by a family friend. Scott was 88.
Born James Victor Scott in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 17, 1925, one of 10 children, “Little” Jimmy Scott, as he was known early in his career, was born with the aforementioned condition, which stunted his physical growth and made him unable to reach puberty. As a result, Scott’s singing voice was unusually high for an adult male, however he used it to his advantage onstage and in the recordings he made beginning in the late 1940s with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Charlie Parker and others. Scott’s appeal crossed over from jazz into the nascent rhythm and blues world, and his 1950 Decca single with Hampton, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” landed in the Billboard R&B top 10 (Scott was not credited on the record label, however).
Scott began recording under his own name in 1951, releasing his debut leader album, Very Truly Yours, on Savoy in 1955. But by the early 1960s, after an album he recorded for Ray Charles’ label was withdrawn due to contractual issues, he had largely given up music and begun working at various jobs outside of the entertainment industry. He released new albums in 1969 and 1975 but they went unnoticed.
Scott began performing in clubs again in 1985, and in 1991, he sang at the funeral of his longtime friend, songwriter Doc Pomus, and was subsequently approached by Sire Records chief Seymour Stein, who expressed an interest in recording Scott again. Scott released an album titled All the Way in 1992, and subsequent interest in the vocalist mushroomed. He was championed by rock artists such as Lou Reed (Scott sang on Reed’s Magic and Loss album) and David Byrne, and director David Lynch used him both onscreen and in the soundtrack of his popular TV series Twin Peaks.
Scott continued to record for Sire, then for Milestone and other labels into the early 2000s. A documentary film, Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew, was produced in 2002 and shown on PBS stations. A biography, Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott (DaCapo), by David Ritz, was published that same year. Several compilation albums of Scott’s early and later work have been issued by various labels, including the two-CD Someone To Watch Over Me, on Warner Bros., and a Rhino collection, Lost and Found. Jimmy Scott was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2007.