LAS VEGAS – Jimmy Scott, a jazzman with an ethereal man-child voice who found success late in life with the Grammy-nominated album “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 had battled health problems stemming from a genetic hormone deficiency and had been under the care of a home nurse, she said.
His 1992 comeback album “All the Way” sold only 49,000 copies in the U.S. but earned him cult-like popularity in Europe and Asia, particularly Japan, where he often sold out performances.
Eventually, he performed with the likes of Elton John, Lou Reed, Michael Stipe and Sting. He also appeared in the series finale of “Twin Peaks,” singing the song “Sycamore Trees,” co-written by the TV show’s creator David Lynch.
“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. At age 37, he grew another 8 inches to the height of 5 feet, 7 inches.
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 before returning to the stage in 1985 and resuming his recording career in 1990.
Scott was born in Cleveland on July 17, 1925. He had a difficult childhood in East Cleveland, losing his mother, who cultivated his passion for music, in a traffic accident at age 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.
He was roommates with Quincy Jones as the band traveled the world.
“I am so deeply saddened at the news that my friend and brother Jimmy Scott has left us,” Jones said in a written statement. “If you don’t believe that Jimmy was one of the most influential jazz singers of his day, all you have to do is listen to his recordings `Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’ and `Why Was I Born.”’
At age 67, Scott 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 went on to release several more recordings, including the jazz-gospel album “Heaven,” for the Sire and Milestone labels, and appeared on Reed’s 1992 recording “Magic and Loss.” He was also the subject of a documentary film “Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew” and a biography “Faith In Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott.”
In 2007, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award, the nation’s highest jazz honor.
In a 2007 interview with the NEA, Scott discussed what makes a great vocalist: “There’s times, in certain songs, that I might be in my own world and who cares about who’s out there, you know? You have a job to do so you do that job of singing that song or telling that story because that’s what you’re doing. If you’re singing, you’re telling a story. So to tell it and tell it right, that’s it.”
He married Jeanie Scott 10 years ago.
“He was an Earth angel,” she said. “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.”
Scott stopped touring two years ago but continued recording until about a month before his death, his wife said. He is expected to be buried in Cleveland.