LAS VEGAS – Jimmy Scott, a jazz legend with an ethereal man-child voice who found success late in life with the Grammy-nominated All the Way, has died. He was 88.
Scott died in his sleep Thursday at his Las Vegas home, said his wife, Jeanie Scott. He battled health problems stemming from a genetic hormone deficiency and had been under the care of a home nurse, she said.
His 1992 album All the Way sold only 49,000 copies in the U.S. but earned him cultlike popularity in Europe and Asia, particularly Japan, where he often sold out performances. Eventually, he performed with the likes of Elton John and Sting.
I love show business, Scott told The Associated Press in 2004. It’s my life, honey, and I try to enjoy it.
His signature high voice came from Kallmann’s syndrome, which kept him from experiencing puberty and stunted his growth. He stood just under 5 feet – and his voice did not change.
Although that trait ultimately helped Scott stand out as a singer, he also suffered from congestive heart failure and had a lifestyle that included heavy drinking and smoking.
Despite his youthful sound, Scott brought heavy emotion to his delivery, often dramatically drawing out lyrics and singing far behind the beat.
The technique won praise from Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson and Madonna, who after seeing him perform in 1994 told the New York Times that Scott was the only singer who ever made her cry.
Jimmy had soul way back when people weren’t using the word, Ray Charles once said in a PBS documentary on the history of jazz.
A record label dispute prevented Scott from making an album in the 1950s produced by Charles. Scott’s previous record company, Savoy Records, said it had an exclusive, lifetime contract with him, and the company blocked Scott’s efforts to release new records for nearly 20 years.
Savoy Records dropped the matter in the 1970s. By that time, Scott had returned to Cleveland, where he worked as a hotel clerk and nursing home aide.
Scott was born in Cleveland on July 17, 1925. He had a difficult childhood in East Cleveland and lost his mother, who cultivated his passion for music, in a traffic accident when he was 13.
His first claim to fame came in 1949 when he recorded the vocals as Little Jimmy Scott for the Lionel Hampton Band’s Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool. His name never appeared on the record, and he never received royalties from the jukebox hit.
At age 67, he was rediscovered by a Warner Bros. Records executive who heard him sing at a friend’s funeral, and the result was All the Way.
He was an Earth angel, Jeanie Scott said. Everyone he met, he made them feel special.
Scott kept recording until about a month ago, she said.