HOLLYWOOD TAKE NOTE: Have I got a pitch for you. An acclaimed jazz singer with a devastating hereditary disease rubs shoulders with some of jazz's greatest voices, languishes in obscurity for the better part of his 80 years, and then experiences a miraculous 11th-hour comeback, only to be name-dropped by everyone from Madonna to Antony and the Johnsons. And the best part of all? He's not even dead yet!
If this isn't ripe for a schmaltzy biopic, I don't know what is. Born in Cleveland in 1925, Jimmy Scott was diagnosed at the age of 12 with a rare hereditary condition called Kallmann's Syndrome—a genetic malady that impedes the body from passing through puberty. Besides halting his physical development at that of a prepubescent boy's, Kallmann's left Scott's voice castrated at a sopranoed birdcall—a dart-sharpened weapon that he would spend his teens perfecting. A year after his diagnosis, Scott's mother bled to death after being struck by a car, and he and his nine brothers and sisters were scattered between foster families. In the '40s, Scott began performing as part of a series of traveling variety shows before becoming a featured vocalist in Lionel Hampton's band in 1948. By the '50s, Scott had decided to go it alone, recording a handful of singles and performing with the likes of Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus before hastily signing with Savoy Records for his first LP.
After a few years of financial exploitation under Savoy's infamous mishandling, a pushing-40 Scott was contacted in 1962 by Ray Charles, who wanted to produce Scott for his Tangerine label—yielding Scott's masterpiece, Falling in Love is Wonderful. Within two months of its initial release, however, the record was pulled from the shelves when Savoy insisted Scott was still under contract. This tragedy was repeated some seven years later when Scott recorded the fabulous The Source for Atlantic Records, only to be shelved for another 30 years. After the Atlantic debacle, Scott largely gave up on his recording career—taking a shipping job in Cleveland for roughly 15 years.
Following a surprisingly warm listener reception during a radio interview in 1984, Scott decided to reenter showbiz—at the age of 60. During his performing hiatus however, his pristine soprano had understandably worn—the oddity of his voice now made even more heart-rending, weathered, and strained as it was by a lifetime of misfortune. Struggling along on small nightclub gigs and social security checks, it would be another six years before Scott would be granted his proper reprieve—at the funeral of a close friend. When noted songwriter and longtime "Little Jimmy" champion Doc Pomus passed away in 1991, Scott performed at his memorial service, catching the mournful ear of Sire Records honcho Seymour Stein. With Sire behind him, Scott would in the following year guest sing on a Lou Reed record, make an appearance on an episode of Twin Peaks, and be nominated for a Grammy. Scott has rounded out his 70s with nearly a dozen critically acclaimed records, garnering a small taste of the success he's been denied for decades.
Someday, when the inevitable comes and Scott is eulogized in a biopic starring Bow Wow or some shit, you're going to deeply regret having spent New Year's Eve 2005 drunk, depressed, and desperately scouting for an unoccupied pair of lips—instead of in the presence of living greatness.