A sweet voice revives, lives on
There's a bittersweet irony at the center of Jimmy Scott's life, for his defining gift is also his greatest burden.
Scott was born with a genetic defect called Kallmann's Syndrome, which meant he never experienced normal male puberty. His voice remained high and pure and brilliant.
Madonna once said Scott was "the only singer who makes me cry." When the great Billie Holiday was once asked to name her favorite singers, Scott was the only name she gave.
But the gift of that voice came with a price tag. Scott was a child/man in a undersized body. Early in his career he was dubbed Little Jimmy Scott. He could function sexually, but not reproduce.
The voice, brilliant as it was, seemed unmistakably female. Inevitably, gender confusion would result, and he met it with rage. The power of that voice was not just in its beauty, but in the sorrow that infused it.
On top of Kallmann's was layered an inordinate serving of heartache. Scott was only 14 when his mother died in a traffic accident, and he and his siblings were sent to different foster homes. Adult life was just as turbulent. There have been five marriages. There were alcohol issues.
The career never seemed quite commensurate with the talent. Back in the '40s, Scott landed a spot with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and a recording deal with Savoy. He had a top 10 R&B hit with Hampton -- "Everybody's Somebody's Fool."
But the follow-up hits never came. There were management issues. He came home to Cleveland and worked as a shipping clerk, and an aide in a nursing home.
Perhaps staying in Cleveland had something to do with it.
"I never got the money recording-wise and without the money you couldn't live where you wanted," he said. "My real desire was to live in an area like California or somewhere. Healthwise it would have been better for me, also."
Then in his late 60s, fame beckoned from an unexpected quarter. Scott's brilliance was rediscovered at a funeral.
The great R&B songwriter Doc Pomus ("Save the Last Dance For Me," "Prisoner of Love," "Viva Las Vegas") was a good friend of Scott's. When Pomus died in 1991, Scott was asked to sing at the funeral. Pomus was well-respected in the business and it was a well- attended event. Lou Reed, for one, was wowed.
A guest shot on Reed's "Magic and Loss" and a recording gig with Warner's quickly followed. In recent years there have been some acclaimed recordings for the jazz specialty label Milestone.
The hot streak continues today. An entirely new generation has fallen for him. At 79, Scott is still on the road.
After all these years, he's savoring his twilight stardom.
"You waited so long to accomplish something out of the business. It's pretty exciting," he said. "I wish it would have come earlier, but it didn't, so you just patiently wait until opportunity comes.
"I have a slogan: You give out but you don't give up. Eventually something will happen."
IF YOU GO
Who: Jimmy Scott
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Alverno College's Pitman Theatre, 3431 S. 39th St.
How much: $28 and $24 general public, $25 and $21 seniors, $10 students, at the box office, (414) 382-6044
Copyright 2005 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not
apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through
wire services or other media
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.