RIP: Little Jimmy Scott, Otherwordly Torch Singer


ROLLING STONE: “As singers, we all deal in pain,” said Ray Charles. “We’re all trying to push the pain through the music and make it sound pretty. Jimmy Scott has more pain and prettiness in his voice than any singer anywhere.” When Scott died on June 12th, he left an extraordinary legacy of both broken dreams and artistic fulfillment. He triumphed, he fell and ultimately he triumphed again. At 25 he was singing with the wildly popular Lionel Hampton band billed as Little Jimmy Scott. His hit, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” became a favorite of beboppers like Dexter Gordon, his Hampton bandmate. “He sang like no one else,” said Gordon. “Ahead of the beat. Behind the beat. In a haunting high-pitched voice that was neither male nor female but both at the same time.” […]

Kallmann syndrome, a condition that halted Jimmy’s hormonal growth, left him with an alto voice that remained unchanged. “Some thought he was a woman in drag,” said Gordon. “He caught hell for being different – not just as a singer, \but as a person on the planet. Yet I never saw him anything but positive, cheerful and ready to roll to the next gig with a smile on his face. Jimmy Scott was one brave motherfucker.” After Hampton, he hooked up with Savoy, the leading bop label. He sat in with Charlie Parker – another Jimmy Scott fan – and cut a series of classic records that went unnoticed.

In the early sixties, Ray Charles, so taken with Scott, signed him to his Tangerine label and produced the great masterpiece, Falling In Love Is Wonderful. “Ray advanced me $2,500,” Jimmy told me, “which was ten times more than I was getting from Savoy. He hired the best jazz arrangers in Hollywood – Gerald Wilson and Mary Paich – and let me pick out the ten love songs I thought best suited my voice. Ray played piano behind me on every track. When we were through, Ray said, ‘Jimmy, this is it, baby. This record is gonna get you recognition you deserve.” It didn’t. In fact, the record was locked in the vault for 40 years before Rhino put it out in 2002. In 1962, the year it was recorded, Savoy claimed to have Scott under contract and prevented its release. Jimmy returned to his hometown of Cleveland where he worked in a retirement home as a nurse’s aid as well as an elevator operator at the downtown Sheraton. He recorded an occasional record for obscure labels, worked periodically at local clubs, but mostly languished in obscurity. MORE

1992 Fresh Air Interview