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The life of Jimmy Scott is not one of meteoric stardom but a journey that has taken nearly seventy years to find its much deserved success.
One of ten children, James Victor Scott was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 17, 1925 .
The first time Jimmy sang on a public stage was at school when the teacher had him sing the lead in a play “Ferdinand the Bull”, after that she always had him do the leads. He was only 12 years old when he became known as a singer around Cleveland . While in his teens a Comedian saw the potential in Jimmy, he was Tim McCoy from Akron . Whenever Tim got a “gig” around Northeast Ohio , he would take Jimmy along with him on the bill. Jimmy would sing at different clubs, they would sneak him out before the cops arrived, because he was not only under age, but looked even younger than his actual years. Later Jimmy produced the Summer Festivals, a group of talented youngsters, like his friend jazz baritone singer Jimmy Reed and dancer Barbara Taylor, that would put on shows all around the area.
They also worked and put on shows at the Metropolitan Theater where the big bands would come in to play, Jimmy set up a concession to supply the Artists with soap, clean towels, and toiletries. He was hired by the dance troupe, “The Two Flashes”, Jimmy took the job to be close to show business, its players, and the stage. While in Meadville , PA. they were working with some of the greatest jazz musicians of the day, Lester Young, Slam Stewart, Ben Webster, Papa Jo Jones, Sir Charles, etc…The music was jumpin' and so was Jimmy, he asked the dancers to see if the band would let him do a couple of numbers, they said ok. Jimmy sang “The Talk of the Town” and “Don't Take Your Love Away”, the audience went crazy showing their love for Jimmy and the thunderous applause was deafening. Every time the band ran into Jimmy, they'd ask him to come up on stage a do a couple numbers. Some of the early big bands Jimmy enjoyed were Count Basie's Band, Erskine Hawkins, and Father Earl Hines, but Lester Young was his favorite tenor sax player. He joined Lionel Hampton's Band in 1948, where he discovered the vibraphone and the strings, Jimmy said “it helped him to learn the beauty of the song and encouraged him to sing”. Lionel was a mentor to Jimmy and the one who tagged him with the stage name, “Little Jimmy Scott”, at the time he was 23, only 4'11”, thin, and very young looking. Jimmy said it was a gimmick for Lionel's show, but it wasn't too many years later that you started hearing more singers take their cue from Jimmy's stage name and call themselves Little So & So.
Jimmy met Estelle “Caldonia” Young in the early 1940's; she took Jimmy on her road show as the featured singer. Caldonia became almost a surrogate mother to Jimmy, having lost his own mother at age 13. “Caldonia's Revue” traveled the southern circuit to the east, they put up their own stages in the rural areas. There were featured male and female vocalists, tap dancers, comedians, an M.C. and Caldonia herself, she was an exotic shake dancer and contortionist. It was essentially like a touring vaudevillian tent show. Some of the others who worked with Caldonia at one time or another were Ruth Brown, Big Maybelle, Elie Adams, and Jack McDuff. Caldonia took Jimmy along with her to do a special performance at Gamby's in Baltimore in 1945, where he met up with his friend Redd Foxx who was appearing at Gamby's also. They went over to the Royal Theater to see Joe Louis. Redd and Joe told Jimmy he should be in New York performing instead of traveling around to those small towns.
They convinced him he could make it on his own, the way he sang. So they talked to Ralph Cooper who called up Nipsy Russell, the M.C. at the Baby Grand in Harlem and arranged for Jimmy to get a one week booking. Jimmy sang that one week and they kept him on for 3 more months! Billie Holiday would show up nightly while in town to listen to Jimmy. Doc Pomus was in the audience during that first week and wanted to meet this amazing singer, Jimmy said “sure” and they became fast friends. Doc took Jimmy home to have dinner to meet his parents and little brother Raoul Felder, he also showed Jimmy how to get around on the N.Y. subway system. Their friendship lasted over 45 years. Jimmy sang at Doc's funeral in 1991. It was there that record label owner Seymour Stein heard Jimmy sing and practically signed him on the spot, thus the beginning of Jimmy's re-emergence as a singer with his Grammy nominated comeback album “All The Way”. At age 67 he began to tour the world, where he was introduced to new appreciative audiences and legions of new young fans !! Now the press refers to him with reverence as the Golden Voice of Jazz, the Legendary Jimmy Scott.
Written by Jeanie Scott
After a long climb, things are really looking up for Jimmy Scott. He's established a dedicated international audience through triumphant tours of Europe and Japan; he's been the featured subject of a Bravo Profiles television special, and of an in-depth biography by award-winning author David Ritz ( Faith in Time: The Jazz Life of Jimmy Scott , due out in the fall of 2002 from Da Capo Press). Now, with But Beautiful , Jimmy Scott fleshes out a persuasive portrait of his jazz mastery and storytelling. "It represents a logical evolution of our Milestone sessions," concludes Barkan, "and everything Jimmy has worked so hard for." Mr. Scott adds a final coda: "The record is quite simply exquisite, and I really am as proud of it as anything I've ever done in my life."
On December 31, 2003 , Jimmy married Jean McCarthy at the Covenant Community Church in Cleveland , Ohio . Jimmy said, “...he wanted to start the New Year off right, that every New Year after that would be my special day.” The couple honeymooned in London , Istanbul , Paris , Austria and Monaco .
In 2004, Jimmy has seen the release of an Independent Lens documentary "Jimmy Scott, If You Only Knew", that won the 2004 Audience Award. A new 28 song CD set compilation, "The Definitive Jimmy Scott: Someone To Watch Over Me" and a single CD, "All Of Me: Jimmy Scott-Live In Tokyo "
Scott himself has always focused his creative energy on the challenges with which this life has presented him. "Ya gotta go on," he says, and not resignedly, "fortunately, I had the music to comfort me." He has said that there isn't any disappointment in heaven, and when asked what this means, he replies, "Heaven is what you make it. You can make it hell here on earth, or you can make it heaven."
Of the success he's achieved relatively late in life, Scott says, "I'm pleased now that (my voice) is pleasing to people. In a way, I feel like now maybe people will hear what I have to offer, whereas before the music never got to a level where all people had access to it. "All I can do is give what I really feel."
"It'll work out in the end. You gotta believe" Jimmy Scott