A respectful and loving crowd filled the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Saturday afternoon (Oct. 25) for a memorial service celebrating the life of Jimmy Scott.
The beloved jazz singer, who passed away on June 12, 2014, at the age of 89, had an up-and-down career that began with Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra in the late 1940s and lasted well into the current century. Over the years, illustrious peers like Billie Holiday, Big Maybelle and Ray Charles — as well as Marvin Gaye, songwriter Doc Pomus, rock legend Lou Reed, Madonna, Frankie Valli, actor Joe Pesci and filmmaker David Lynch adored Little Jimmy Scott.
The afternoon included reflections and tributes from a number of Scott’s friends and admirers. The speakers included Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, music industry stalwart Bill Bentley, producer Hal Willner, Congressman Charles B. Rangel and biographer David Ritz. The music included Sam Moore singing “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist T.K. Blue performing “The Healers,” New Orleans artist Davell Crawford singing “When Did You Leave Heaven,” jazz veteran Andy Bey singing “Embraceable You,” English singer Antony Hegarty performing a fantastic version of “Smile,” soul legend Chuck Jackson singing “Any Day Now” and Dr. John wrapping things up with a heartfelt rendition of “My Buddy.”
The daughter of Doc Pomus, Sharyn Felder, recounted the anecdote of Jimmy Scott singing at Doc Pomus’ own funeral, which resulted in Scott being “rediscovered” by Sire Records’ Seymour Stein, who gave the diminutive singer a much-needed recording contract. Scott’s first album for Sire, All The Way, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Felder also remembered her father’s unending devotion to Jimmy Scott, which included an open letter to the editor of Billboard Magazine on September 21, 1987, in which Pomus took the record industry elite to task for their marked indifference towards this great artist. Since Doc Pomus described Jimmy Scott’s career and dilemmas better than we ever could, we’ve decided to reprint an excerpt of that Billboard letter below.
Before It’s Too Late
I’ve been singer Jimmy Scott’s fan and friend for almost 40 years. When I first met him he was coming off R&B tunes like “Dearest Darling,” “My Mother’s Eyes” and “Hands Across The Table.” At that time, black records were called “race records” and seldom crossed over to the white charts. His career then was at a semi-standstill and he was already starting to fall through the cracks. Then he disappeared and for the next twenty years I heard very little about him. Later I heard that Jimmy was working in the shipping department of a Cleveland hotel and singing at senior citizen homes and at hospitals. Those gigs went on until the mid-eighties. Then two years ago he suddenly turned up in Newark, New Jersey. I heard him sing and he was great as ever. He looks healthy and acts fairly wise, but wealthy—forget about it. He’s just barely hanging in. If you want to know more about his singing ask Quincy Jones or Stevie Wonder or Frankie Valli or Nancy Wilson—they idolize him. When we talk about Jimmy Scott we’re talking about somebody who might be the best singer of contemporary or vintage ballads around. There must be some space somewhere for him. What’s everyone waiting for? He’s sixty-two years old, he’ll die and there’ll be a hot funeral. Everybody will show up in hip mourning clothes and talk about how great he was. Let’s do something now. I’ve shed enough tears for enormously talented friends who died penniless in relative obscurity. I’m getting good and pissed at the affluent members of the music community who sit around and pontificate and let such tragedies happen again and again.
— Doc Pomus, 1987