Jimmy Scott has died at the age of 88.
The vocal legend struggled with health problems all his life; a side effect of the very hormone deficiency that gave him the angelic and ethereal vocal tone for which he became known. He had been under the care of a nurse before passing away in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 12.
James Victor Scott was born in Cleveland, OH on July 17, 1925. He was diagnosed with Kallmann’s Syndrome as a child, which stunted his growth and prevented him from hitting puberty. Standing at just 5-feet tall as an adult, his quickly earned the endearing nickname ‘Little Jimmy Scott.’
He got his start as a performer singing in the local church choir as a child, and his distinctively high-pitched voice and emotive delivery naturally led to a career in the music industry. He had his first hit at the age of 24, performing “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” accompanied by Lionel Hapmton’s group. He released several successful albums throughout the ’50s and ’60s, and garnered critical acclaim and compliments from contemporaries like Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson.
After a dispute with Savoy Records, Scott’s former record label, the company claimed to have an exclusive, lifetime contract with him and blocked his efforts to release new music for almost two decades. At the peak of his career, having been effectively locked out of the music industry, Scott returned to his home town to work as a hotel clerk.
The company dropped their claims in the late ’70s, but his career was not truly revived until the early ’90s, when he sang on Lou Reed’s “Power and Glory” and performed “Sycamore Trees” on the series finale of Twin Peaks, one of the top-rated American television dramas of the ’90s. He became an NEA Jazz Master in 2007, and although he never had another hit record he regularly sold out shows in Europe and Asia up until he stopped touring in 2012.
Scott also famously performed “Why Was I Born” at U.S. President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, 40-years after perfoming the same song at President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration 1953.
His distinctive vocal type, which fell into the traditionally female contralto range, wasn’t the only thing that separated Scott from his contemporaries. It was the incredibly emotive delivery that accompanied every word of every song he ever performed. Ray Charles once remarked to PBS: “Jimmy had soul way back when people weren’t using the word.”
In a statement, Scott’s wife of 10-years Jeanie said: “He was an Earth angel. He was different from any person I ever met. He was kind, humble. Everyone he met he made them feel special. He had a hard life, but he didn’t hold any resentment.”