Celebrating the Haunting Androgyny of Jimmy Scott

The passing of Little Jimmy Scott comes just as discrimination based on sexuality - or more accurately - the perception of sexuality is getting its day in the courts. And while Scott was an avowed heterosexual, he knew what it meant to be singled out for being sexually ambiguous. Born with a rare genetic defect called Kallmann syndrome which stunted his growth, he never reached puberty. The condition rendered him slight in stature and consequently his voice never broke. He got his start as a featured singer in Lionel Hampton's band in the late 40s. It was Hampton who gave him his diminutive nickname. On Hampton's records, Scott was never credited, so listeners had no idea if they were listening to a man or a woman – which also stunted his career growth at a time when deep throated singers like Billy Eckstine ruled the airwaves. He slipped from the spotlight, and spent a couple decades working as a shipping clerk and doing other odd jobs. Nonetheless, Scott slowly developed a deep cult following which resulted in a comeback starting in the early 90s. In 1991, he performed at the funeral of Doc Pomus and was championed by Pomus' friend Lou Reed on the 1992 album, Magic and Loss, Reed's powerful tribute to Pomus. David Lynch brought Scott even more acclaim, featuring him on the soundtrack to his 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Jimmy Scott was famous for serving the lyric above the note, a trait that famously led the great Charlie Mingus to storm out of the studio during a session in Feb 1955 -- Scott was recording four tracks for Savoy Records. Mingus was the bassist on the session and got annoyed that Jimmy was – in his opinion - so far behind the beat that he couldn’t keep time. The resulting session yielded my favorite Jimmy Scott recording, his hair raising rendition of "When Did You Leave Heaven".

Scott made many visits to KCRW over the years, performing live in studio several times, including a treasured session with the late Lou Reed. He was very generous and candid in conversation, an absolute gentleman, and always grateful for his blessed career. Jimmy Scott passed away Thursday June 12, 2014 at the age of 88.