Remembering Jimmy Scott
On Thursday, June 12, the world of music lost one of its most unique voices: Jimmy Scott, who died of cardiac arrest while asleep at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Born on July 17, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio, James Victor Scott’s life in music began during childhood, singing both at home with his mother and in the choir at church, but his career began in earnest after taking the lead vocal on “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” by the Lionel Hampton Band, which hit the top 10 of the R&B charts in 1950. At the time, Scott was known as “Little Jimmy” due to a genetic condition known as Kallmann’s syndrome stunting his growth at a height of only four feet and 11 inches; although he ended up growing an additional eight inches at the age of 37, Scott’s voice never developed properly, which resulted in the uniquely high vocal stylings that made his performances so instantly recognizable.
Scott’s battles with the effects of Kallmann’s syndrome were far from his only struggles: although he earned a certain degree of recognition from his work with Hampton’s band, his name didn’t actually appear on the credits to the songs to which he contributed, which kept his profile lower than it might otherwise have been. In 1963, he signed to Ray Charles’ label, Tangerine Records, and released the album Falling in Love is Wonderful, only to have it pulled from distribution after a dispute over a supposed “lifetime” contract Scott had signed with Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records, and remained out of print until finally earning a reissue from Rhino Handmade in 2003 (unfortunately, it sold out ages ago, but, yes, you’re right, we should look into the possibility of making it available digitally), and although Scott recorded an album entitled The Source in 1969, it didn’t actually see release until 2001. By the time the 1970s had begun, Scott was back in Cleveland and effectively out of the music business.
Thankfully, Scott experienced a career comeback in the early ‘90s, with Lou Reed inviting him to sing on his 1992 album, Magic and Loss, a tribute to their mutual friend, the late Doc Pomus (Scott sang at his funeral), but it’s arguable that the greatest moment of his later career came via David Lynch, who introduced Scott to the universe of Twin Peaks by having him croon a creepy yet lovely song called “Sycamore Trees.”
From there, Scott released a trio of albums on Sire – All the Way (1992), Dream (1994), and Heaven(1996) – and continued to record and release material for several years thereafter, while his earlier material earned reissue, thereby introducing a new generation to his classic work. In addition to singing at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration (which was actually Scott’s second inauguration performance, having also sung for Dwight Eisenhower), Scott also began to receive award after award for his contributions to music, including the Kennedy Center’s Jazz in Our Time Living Legend Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Jazz Foundation of America, and – in 2013 – he was inducted into the R&B Music Hall of Fame at Cleveland State University, a tremendous honor for anyone, but certainly for a Cleveland-born fellow like Scott.
To remember Scott, we’ve put together a playlist which spotlights his work for Sire, the belatedly-released The Source, the aforementioned Lou Reed song, and our personal favorite, his track from Twin Peaks.
So long, Jimmy. We’ll see you – and you’ll see us – under the sycamore tree.