Born c. 1972 in Philadelphia, PA; married Lyzel Williams (a graphic designer and deejay), 2001. Education: Studied secondary education at Temple University. Addresses: Record company--Hidden Beach Records, 3030 Nebraska Ave., Penthouse Suite, Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website--Jill Scott Official Website: http://www.experiencejillscott.com.
Singer, poet, and songwriter Jill Scott burst onto the neosoul/R&B scene in a blaze of glory following the release of her double-platinum-selling debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1, in 2000. RollingStone.com writer Toure called Scott "the premier female romantic voice of the neosoul era." The notoriously down-to-earth Philadelphia native found herself awash in Grammy Award nominations, appearing onstage with soul diva Aretha Franklin on VH-1, and opening for rock star Sting on his North American tour. But the sudden onslaught of success did not go to her head. Writer Clarence Waldron summed it up in Jet when he declared: "Jill Scott is as real and honest as her down-home soul music. She is well-grounded and down-to-earth--despite her newfound stardom."
Scott was raised by her mother, Joyce Scott, and her grandmother, Blue Babe, in North Philadelphia. "She was a very loved child," Joyce Scott told Toure in RollingStone.com, a fact that Jill Scott herself readily acknowledges. She remembers protective teenage boys in the neighborhood looking out for her, making sure she got home safely. Many of those boys, she recalled sadly in Essence, died from gunshot wounds. She later donated money for a computer lab to the elementary school she attended as a girl. She grew up listening to her grandmother humming tunes around the kitchen. She has had very little formal vocal training, but Scott has spent years listening to artists who inspire her singing style. She credits listening to singers like Sarah Vaughan, Donnie Hathaway, Minnie Riperton, and opera star Leontyne Price for helping her mold her vocal sound. "I listened and I went to a class that included all that I needed to learn," Scott said in an interview with Sanchez for Essence."I wanted to learn voice techniques, how to breathe. I wanted to learn how to use the tools, but I didn't want them to take over and crush the spirit."
Scott began her career as a poet while studying at Temple University to become a high-school English teacher. When she first worked with children, Scott helped them learn how to spell by making up songs. The kids loved it, but her supervising teachers wrote her off as young and idealistic. Frustrated with her studies and a dead-end retail job while at Temple, Scott also pursued acting. At first she had balked when a friend suggested she should act, but when her first attempts were enjoyable and successful, she quit her job and dropped out of school to take an apprenticeship with a theater company. She ultimately landed the role in the Canadian touring production of the hit Broadway musical Rent. She worked a number of jobs to make ends meet during those struggling years. She did manual labor on a theater construction site, scooped ice cream, and cleaned toilets--anything that left her time to write and wasn't a typical nine-to-five office job. Scott was one among a number of promising Philadelphia poets who regularly recited their poems, hummed songs, and rapped at gatherings in small venues around the city, like the October Gallery. "They were live, on-time, exciting, and on a mission to be heard," writer and poet Sonia Sanchez wrote in Essence.
Once she decided to pursue a singing career, Scott contacted producer and DJ Jeff Townes--also known as Jazzy Jeff from his work with Fresh Prince Will Smith--and recorded seven songs with him. Her real break came after Ahmir Khalib Thompson, the drummer for the Roots who is also known as ?uestlove, heard Scott at one of her poetry performances. He invited her into the studio with the band, and she wound up co-writing the top-40 hit "You Got Me." The song earned a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for the Roots and Erykah Badu in 1999. Scott later collaborated with Will Smith on Willennium and Common on Like Water for Chocolate. Her songs also can be heard on a number of soundtracks, including those for the films Down to Earth, Kingdom Come, In Too Deep, and Wild, Wild West.
Scott's debut release, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, was also the debut release for Hidden Beach, an upstart record label co-owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan. Scott's voice on the album is at times soothing and soulful, and she also occasionally scats and breaks into the spoken word, recalling her poetry-jam days. Her lyrics are emotional and personal--"These words have soul, conviction and woman behind them," she said in the Jet interview with Waldron. "The album is romantic soul music cool enough for the hip-hop generation and mature enough for our mothers," Toure wrote in RollingStone.com. Although the media squeezed her comfortably into the "neosoul" R&B genre, Scott's description of her sound is more expressive: "I would definitely call it soul, because that's where it comes from, that's where the singing comes from, that's where the lyrics come from" she said in Jet. "It's a combination of jazz, R&B, country, hip hop, opera. It's every genre of music that I've ever heard." Scott initially released two singles from the album: "Love Rain," featuring rapper Mos Def, was an underground hit, while "Getting in the Way" found its way onto MTV and mainstream radio. For her effort, Scott received three Grammy Award nominations: Best New Artist, Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Album of the Year.
Although she was featured on People magazine's list of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" in 2001, the singer goes to great lengths to resist the pressures of the media to be thin and clad in designer clothes. She proudly maintains her natural image--that of a healthy, happy woman who eats what she wants and wears what she chooses to wear. "We live in a society that says you have to be thin, you have to have a certain kind of hair and you have to have these expensive clothes to be considered attractive. Intelligence is third or fourth," she told Sanchez in Essence. "My intent has been to show myself completely and not hide behind the masks of fancy clothing, a lot of makeup, lots of jewelry. I don't want to hide behind any of those things. I want to be just who I am."
After being sidelined briefly with a lung infection, Scott launched her own 27-city tour in the summer of 2001. She was backed by veteran jazz musicians, many of whom had performed with the likes of Roy Ayers, Anita Baker, and Aretha Franklin. These musicians gave Scott the support she needed to explore herself onstage, and the result was a series of highly acclaimed live shows. After watching Scott in concert, singer Erykah Badu told Toure in Rolling Stone.com, "She's real sympathetic about humanity and the way that people treat other people. And her music takes me back to the grass roots. It's simple, whimsical, very dreamy. She sounds more like a horn than a singer. She makes me cry. She makes me feel me." In a shocking turn, Scott missed a string of tour dates when she temporarily lost 85 percent of her hearing in her right ear. She was diagnosed with Sudden Deafness Syndrome (S.D.S).
Scott released Experience: Jill Scott 826+, a two-disc live album, in 2002. The first disc is a blend of Scott favorites, recorded live primarily in Washington, D.C., on the 2001 tour. These include "A Long Walk," "One Is the Magic #," and "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)." One People critic commented that the disc "actually improves upon" the studio-recorded versions found on Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1. The second disc features ten previously unreleased songs, including "Gotta Get Up," "High Post Brotha," and "Gimme." The People critic noted the new material "doesn't quite measure up" to her older work.
by Brenna Sanchez
Jill Scott's Career
Performed readings of her own poetry in North Philadelphia, early 1990s; toured Canada with the Broadway musical Rent; co-wrote top-40 hit "You Got Me" with the Roots, 1999; collaborated with 4hero, Eric Benet, Common, Kenny Lattimore, and Will Smith; released debut album Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1,2000; completed 27-city solo tour, 2001; released live double-album Experience: Jill Scott 826+, 2002.
Jill Scott's Awards
Soul Train Awards, Aretha Franklin Award for Entertainer of the Year, Best R&B/Soul Single for "A Long Walk," R&B/Soul Album of the Year for Who Is Jill Scott?, Best R&B, Soul, or Rap New Artist, 2001.
- Selected discography
- (Contributor) In Too Deep (soundtrack), Sony, 1999.
- (Contributor) Wild Wild West (soundtrack), Interscope, 1999.
- Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 , Hidden Beach, 2000.
- (Contributor) Down to Earth (soundtrack), Sony, 2001.
- (Contributor) Kingdom Come (soundtrack), Gospo Centric, 2001.
- Experience: Jill Scott 826+ , Hidden Beach, 2002.
February 13, 2005: Scott won the Grammy Award for best urban/alternative performance for "Cross My Mind." Source: Grammys.com, www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/47winners, February 14, 2005.
- Entertainment Weekly, February 16, 2001, p. 98.
- Essence, January 2002, p. 84.
- Jet, August 20, 2001, p. 58.
- Newsweek, July 24, 2000, p. 63.
- People, January 21, 2002, p. 33.
- Time, July 24, 2000, p. 68.
- "Jill Scott," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 2, 2002).
- "Jill Scott," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/default.asp?oid=10705 (July 2, 2002).
- Jill Scott Official Website, http://www.experiencejillscott.com (July 2, 2002).
- "Lovechild," Vibe.com, http://www.vibe.com/new/artist/20001201/index.html (July 2, 2002).