Tag: jazz singer

Born On This Day in 1950: Grammy Award-Winning Singer Natalie Cole

Natalie Maria Cole was born on February 6, 1950, and grew up in a heavily musical atmosphere in Los Angeles’ exclusive Hancock Park area. In addition to her famous father, jazz and pop musical legend Nat King Cole, Natalie’s mother Maria had been a background vocalist with Duke Ellington.

Cole’s own breakthrough as a musical artist came via her early 1970s association with Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, who once worked with one of Natalie’s real-life idols, Aretha Franklin. Her debut album “Inseparable” came out in 1975, which included two of her signature hits – “This Will Be” (#6 on the pop charts and the title track. Her debut also garnered her Grammy Awards for Best R&B female vocals and Best New Artist.

Cole subsequently had hits with “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mr. Melody,” “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” “Our Love,” “Stand By,” “What You Won’t Do for Love,” “Hold On” and “Nothing But a Fool,” along with more platinum and gold albums. Acute drug problems, however, hindered her career and Cole eventually took time off time for recovery.

In 1985, Natalie released, in what was the start of a comeback, her album “Dangerous” for Modern Records. Late 1980s pop singles included “Jump Start My Heart,” “Miss You Like Crazy”, “Pink Cadillac” and “I Live for Your Love.”

In the midst of her ebb-and-flow R&B success, in 1991 Cole shifted into her familial jazz roots to record a new CD, “Unforgettable…with Love,” paying homage to her late father. With the help and encouragement of family, Cole re-arranged and re-recorded some of his greatest songs in the same studio that he recorded (Capitol Studios), used some of the same musicians and even recreated one of his signature songs, the title tune “Unforgettable,” with a technological effect that appeared as if they were dueting together.

Never before or since has this been pulled off and marketed so successfully. Not only did it sell well over 30 million copies, it would become an eight-time over platinum winner. It earned several awards on Grammy night, including “Album of the Year” and “Record of the Year,.”

Over time Natalie began covering more jazz standards. A jazz CD in 1994 also captured a Grammy. In addition, Cole branched out into occasional acting roles, including the social drama Lily in Winter (1994) and the autobiographical feature film Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story (2000) in which she played herself. She has also made infrequent acting appearances on such shows as “I’ll Fly Away,” “Law & Order,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Cole passed away from congestive heart failure on December 31, 2015 in Los Angeles. She was 65 and is survived by one son, Robert Adam Yancy.

R.I.P. Grammy-Nominated Jazz Singer Jimmy Scott

Jimmy Scott performing at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse in 2001. (Jack Vartoogian for The New York Times)
Jimmy Scott, a jazz singer whose distinctively plaintive delivery and unusually high-pitched voice earned him a loyal following and, late in life, a taste of bona fide stardom, died on Thursday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 88.

The cause was cardiac arrest, his wife, Jeanie Scott, said.

Mr. Scott’s career finished on a high note, with steady work from the early 1990s on, as well as a Grammy nomination, glowing reviews and praise from well-known fellow performers like Madonna, who called him “the only singer who makes me cry.” But the first four decades of his career were checkered, with long periods of inactivity and more lows than highs.

After enjoying sporadic success in the 1950s, he had almost none in the 1960s. Albums he recorded for major labels in 1962 and 1969, which might have jump-started his career, were quickly withdrawn from the market when another company claimed to have him under contract. He virtually stopped performing in the 1970s and made no records between 1975 and 1990.

Scott in a portrait from the early 1950s. (Credit: Little Jimmy Scott Collection)
But if Mr. Scott spent most of his career in relative obscurity, he always had a core of fiercely devoted fans — among them many prominent vocalists who cited him as an influence, including Marvin Gaye, Frankie Valli and Nancy Wilson.

The fact that both men and women considered themselves Mr. Scott’s disciples is not surprising: because of a rare genetic condition called Kallmann syndrome, which caused his body to stop maturing before he reached puberty, Mr. Scott’s voice never changed, and he remained an eerie, androgynous alto his whole life.

Standing 4-foot-11, with a hairless face to match his boyish voice, he was originally billed as Little Jimmy Scott, and he was presented to audiences as a child until well into his 20s. In his mid-30s he unexpectedly grew eight inches taller and, although he otherwise remained physically unchanged, doctors told him an operation might stimulate his hormonal development. He decided against it.

“I was afraid of entering uncharted territory,” Mr. Scott told David Ritz, the author of “Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott” (2002). “Besides, fooling with my hormones might mean changing my voice. Whatever the problems that came with the deficiency, my voice was the one thing I could count on.”

Mr. Scott’s condition left him incapable of reproduction.

James Victor Scott was born on July 17, 1925, in Cleveland. The third of 10 children, he lived in orphanages and foster homes after his mother was killed in a car accident when he was 13. After singing in local nightclubs for a few years, he went on the road in 1945 with a vaudeville-style show headed by Estella Young, a dancer and contortionist. He moved to New York City in 1947 and joined Lionel Hampton’s band a year later.

His 1950 recording of “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” with Hampton set the pattern for his later work. A mournful ballad of love gone wrong, the song was delivered with feverish intensity and idiosyncratic, behind-the-beat phrasing. The record was a hit, but because it was credited on the label simply to “Lionel Hampton, vocal with orchestra,” few people knew that Mr. Scott was the singer.

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