The jazz vocalist had to take forty years to hit it big

By Michele Romero
Updated June 24, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

He crooned with Lou Reed (on Magic and Loss) and Bruce Springsteen (on ”Streets of Philadelphia”), sang at the wedding of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and calls members of the Grateful Dead his buddies. Madonna caught his show at Manhattan’s Tavern on the Green twice last month — and he doesn’t even play basketball. But Jimmy Scott can sing. In fact, the 68-year-old jazz vocalist possesses a soulful timbre so beautifully pitched you’d swear he’d just conjured Billie Holiday with a Ouija board.

The two singers had similar beginnings. Scott sang with Lionel Hampton’s band when he was 21, but his career was thwarted by a restrictive record contract until 1991, when a Sire Records executive heard Scott’s sweet but pained pipings at the funeral of early R&B songwriter Doc Pomus. (Scott’s second album on Sire, Dream, will be released July 12.) It had been a long wait between breaks. At 13, his mother had passed away, forcing her brood of 10 to scatter. ”I would totally forget my loneliness when I sang,” recalls Scott. ”My mother taught me not to lay down and wallow — if you fall, you get up!” After years of scant acclaim and little financial reward, a newly revered Jimmy Scott sings with his arms outstretched and a voice that can touch the heavens.