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Jimmy Scott — the Voice of an Angel

Photo courtesy of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Thank you for Facebook, for without it I would never have learned of Jimmy Scott’s passing with such immediacy via my friend Sharyn Felder’s newsfeed. Last night we lost an incredibly gifted singer and interpreter of jazz and song whose voice, Lou Reed said, was that of an angel.. “Little” Jimmy Scott as he was known, had a beautifully high, contralto singing register, due to a rare genetic disorder called Kallman’s disease. So when people first heard him sing, sight unseen, you would think you were listening to the beautiful phrasing of female voice or that of a child – but it was Jimmy Scott – and man who was born in Cleveland, and rose to prominence first in the late 40s singing with the Lionel Hampton Band and had a hit with “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” He recorded with Charlie Parker “Embraceable You” and was working the road and recording on Ray Charles’ Tangerine label up until the late 60s. He was a favorite of Frankie Valli and Billie Holiday, Jimmy Scott’s “first” career met with the fate that so many performers and musicians had in the early days with terrible management and un-workable recording contract issues, which ultimately forced him to quit recording and performing, and to take up work back in Cleveland. It was not until 1991, when he sang at the great songwriters Doc Pumus’ funeral, that Jimmy Scott was rediscovered by a whole new generation of listeners and fans , thanks to artists like Lou Reed, who had Jimmy Scott sing on Reed’s Magic and Loss in 1992, and also perform on the tour to support that album; as well as singing and appearing on the great 90s TV show Twin Peaks. Thank god for comebacks, for independent minded artists and supporters who care enough to celebrate and recognize great talent like Jimmy Scott. They helped him realize an incredible comeback career with Jimmy Scott sharing his beautiful voice, phrasing and emotion with new fans worldwide. I met him twice, once when I saw him at Tavern on the Green in New York City in the early 90s in New York, and the second time at Antony and the Johnsons Carnegie Hall debut in 2005. That night I was introduced to Jimmy Scott through Lou Reed, who said Antony was a direct descendent of Jimmy Scott, and that he too had the voice of an angel. So there it was – the meeting of Angels. “We saw the moon vanish into his pocket; We saw the stars disappear from sight; We saw him walk across water into the sun; While bathed in eternal light” – Lou Reed, Power and the Glory, 1992

Scott Richman

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