Sunday, June 15, 2014

In memory of Jimmy Scott (1925-2014): one of the finest singers of all time

“I’ve been called a queer, a little girl, an old woman, a freak, and a fag. As a singer, I’ve been criticized for sounding feminine. They say I don’t belong in any category, male or female, pop or jazz. But early on, I saw my suffering as my salvation.”

Jimmy Scott 

from his biography “Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott" written by David Ritz.

Jimmy Scott, who possessed one of the most most amazing singing voices in American jazz and popular music, died this week aged 88.

Scott was once described in the New York Times as “perhaps the most unjustly ignored American singer of the 20th century.”

Jimmy Scott sang with a high-pitched voice and a deep understanding of lyrics. He sang at slow tempos and elongated vowels, bringing fresh emotional meaning to songs. Listening to his songs has a haunting effect.

The jazz critic Will Friedwald wrote:
“Yet there’s a deeper question than even that, one which defies any attempt at a reasonable explanation, and it is, how does Jimmy Scott move us so deeply and profoundly?”
Listening to his haunting and spine chilling version of the song Nothing Compares to You, made famous by Sinead O'Connor, confirms the accuracy of Friewald's comments.

Scott's career was marked by hard luck, sorrow and decades of neglect. He found fame in the 1940's and 1950's, but after contractual disputes, his career floundered and he was forced to work as a lift operator and care attendant before his revival in the 1990's, by the time he was well into his sixties. 

Scott continued to perform well into his 80's, often singing in a wheelchair.

The singer songwriter and producer Joe Henry wrote this on his Facebook page:
jimmy possessed a voice so unique that most every description of his artistry begins with an attempt to dispel its mystery; but it was not something to be unraveled; rather, a divine instrument that one follows like a light out of darkness, the rhythmic invention of his phrasing so supple and sublime that it ran like water uphill as well as down. 
i had the opportunity to produce two songs for jimmy a few years ago; and though they have yet to be heard publicly, they stand as work i am as proud of as any music in which i have ever participated: a sacred morning in my basement where nearly every one stood silently in tears, as the first song played back. 
all except jimmy, that is; who simply beamed and nodded, waved me over, pulled my ear close to his lips, and said, "oh, let's just stay down here all day!"

Articles in memory of Jimmy Scott are here, here, here, here, here and here.  

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