“Most people sense that all is not well in the world we live in. And I’ve put these concerns to music …My goal at this time is to try to lift the world with music and art.” – Cynthia Scott
For three decades, the vocal artistry of the multi-talented Arkansas-born vocalist Cynthia Scott has encompassed the swing of jazz, the soul of blues, R&B, and the sacred stirrings of gospel music. She is loved by audiences from New York to Africa, Europe and Asia; by musicians from Wynton Marsalis to Ray Charles – who discovered her – and by jazz critics like the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich, who called her “a mesmerizing vocalist.”
Teaching in France
With the Raelettes
Lincoln Center Rehearsal with Wynton Marsalis
Cynthia studied acting under Uta Hagen and Austin Pendleton and she has joined the world as a Playwright and actress with her one woman play with music “One Raelette’s Journey . Her first reviews and press says it all. (Read Here) Austin Pendleton’s comments on her play reads... “One Raelette's Journey is one of the most moving, the most joyous, the most heartbreaking, and the most uplifting one-person shows I've ever seen. Cynthia Scott is a wonderful actress and a wonderful singer. Those two things don't always go together, but they certainly do in this show, with this actress, this singer. She has a riveting story to tell, and she tells it in a way that I don't think anybody who sees it will ever forget. This means, of course, that she is also a fine, fine writer. She has a way with words, and a way with a narrative line, that comes together with some kind of magic that is all its own. I recommend her, and her show, very, very highly to your attention”. Austin Pendleton
The play showcases some of the music from her latest CD Dream for One Bright World – her fifth as a leader. It is an incredible, eleven-track recording featuring some of New York’s finest musicians including, pianist/keyboardist John diMartino, multi-reedist Bill Easley, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, drummer Yoron Israel, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffrey, trumpeter Etienne Charles, trombonist Andrae Murchinson, and percussionist Jeff Haynes. The legendary pianist/arranger Norman Simmons assisted with this production and said, “I don't recall ever experiencing a program so powerful ...” The CD features Scott’s cool and colorful contralto singing about many issues of the world today: homelessness, Alzheimer’s disease, hope, and love – along with a shout-out to her old boss, Ray Charles. “I learned from Ray to tell the story and do it your way, with all your roots included,” Scott says. She served as a Mercedes Spokesperson/Artist at the International Car Convention in Detroit.
Cynthia Scott’s roots, the source of her inspiring drive and artistry, are firmly planted in African-American culture. She was born and raised in El Dorado, Arkansas, the tenth of twelve children, whose parents were married for seventy years. Her father was a preacher. She started singing at the age of four, and was exposed to a wide variety of music. “I couldn’t listen to anything but gospel music in our home, but I could sneak over to my sister’s house. She had a different set of rules,” says Scott. “Many family members were musicians: sisters played piano, brothers played guitar and one played piano. They all still do... mom and dad played a little also.” This year 2016, Cynthia will be inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held Oct. 29th in Little Rock Arkansas.
She grew up soaking in a myriad of influences. “I loved Carmen McCrae; I heard her story when she sang. Roberta Flack … I could sing her Chapter Two album straight through, note per note. Aretha Franklin always amazed me by the way you could really feel her. And then later there was Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday … talk about emotions on your sleeve.” When Scott moved to Dallas after she graduated from high school in Arkansas, those influences formed into one soaring and syncopated voice that was all hers. While working as an airline stewardess, she honed her craft with some of the best musicians in Dallas: James Clay, Claude Johnson, Roger Boykin, Onzy Matthews, Marchel Ivery, and Red Garland. And then, she got her big break. “I received a call around five AM in the morning from Ray Charles back in 1972,” says Scott, “totally unexpected and shocked at the same time: Ray Charles, calling a girl from Arkansas.” She became a Raelette – one of the select women chosen to be Charles’ back-up singer. Scott worked with the Genius for two years, which included a European tour with Oscar Peterson with Joe Pass and The Count Basie Orchestra with Joe Williams. “I felt like I knew Ray's spirit because when you work with someone as closely as I did with Ray, you learn so much,” says Scott.” He was a great teacher to so many and his music will live on.” After Charles’ death, Scott would go on to work with many of his star sidemen including Hank Crawford, Marcus Belgrave, Leroy Cooper and David “Fathead” Newman.
In the late eighties, Scott got another fateful phone call – this time, from a club owner who wanted to book her for an engagement in Chelsea Place in Manhattan. Scott hired a then unknown piano player for that engagement; a young man fresh from New Orleans named Harry Connick, Jr., who later introduced her at a David Letterman Christmas party as “one of the world’s finest jazz singers.” That four-week engagement lasted for three years for Cynthia, and she decided to stay in New York. She has headlined at Birdland, Iridium, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and more. She was the featured vocalist of the Supper Club in Times Square, NYC for over ten years. That ended on the dreadful day of September 11, 2001. She has worked with many of the jazz world’s superstars, including Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway toward the end of their careers, and said there was so much more to learn. She sang regularly with the late David Fathead Newman (was considered his favorite vocalist), also Margaret Whiting, Kevin Mahogany, Julius LaRosa, Bill Charlap, Warren Vache, The Harper Brothers, Cyrus Chestnut, Norman Simmons, Igor Butman, Oleg Butman, Eddie Henderson, Ed Cherry, Ben Wolf, Stefon Harris and Wynton Marsalis, who proclaimed that Scott possessed, “the sweetest, most soulful voice with the deepest feeling.” So much so, that Scott was chosen as the first voice to sing in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Room to test its acoustics, with a combo consisting of saxophonist Sherman Irby, bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer Willie Jones and pianist John Hicks. Scott performed at The Women in Jazz Festival at Lincoln Center in 2005, and recently in May 2009, she was the headliner, along with vocalist Annie Ross, at the IWJ International Women in Jazz Festival. She has performed at many festivals in Russia, Spain, Kazakhstan, Japan, Florida, New York and Chicago.
Scott performed in the touring musical, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a tribute featuring the music of Johnny Mercer, based on the bestselling novel by John Berendt. The Syracuse Herald wrote that Scott performed Mercer’s music with” … haunting artistry and superb talent...singing 'Satin Doll' and 'Moon River' into suave musical monologues.” She was a finalist in the 1998 Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition, and the 2005 International Songwriting Competition.
But Scott’s star doesn’t just shine in the states or in performing. She went back to school and earned her Bachelor and Master Degrees from the Manhattan School of Music in 1993 and 1995. She’s on the vocal teacher roster list at The New School and City College. The acclaimed educator and clinician also teaches private students and Zoom. She’s also an international superstar, as evidenced by her life-changing role as a Jazz Ambassador for U.S. State Department (established with the Kennedy Center) in 2004, where she toured France and West Africa.
“It was an incredible experience to be able to share our music with other countries,” says Scott. “They let me choose where I wanted to go. I chose West Africa because I was always curious as to what part of Africa my family might have come from. I read where a lot of the enslaved came from West Africa...and sure enough when I arrived, I saw so many people that looked like me, they could be my sister, brother, cousin … particularly, in Ghana. I taught many workshops along with performances. In one workshop, I will never forget: I had four year olds to ten year olds. I asked them, ‘what is the first instrument God created,’ a little boy raised his hand. He was five years old and said the HEARTBEAT. I looked at the musicians and said, “he’s right because the heart does beat, long before the voice can speak”. I learned something that day from a wonderful five year old child name Michael. In the song “Vision from on High” [from Dream for a BrightWorld] I write, ‘Listen from the heart of a child that can see....’”
Teaching and learning from the children in Africa
That child’s answer perfectly mirror’s Scott’s passion to use her art to make the world a better place; whether she’s touring the Motherland, Asia or South America, or on her splendid recordings – all self-produced and released on her own Ttocslabel from 2000 to 2009: I Just Want to Know, Boom Boom: Live in Japan with Norman Simmons Trio, Al La Carte: Live at Birdland, Storytelling: Live at Birdland, and Dream for One Bright World, which Roger Boykin of “Just Jazz” on Dallas’ KKDA-AM, wrote, “with the release of this CD, Cynthia Scott has found her true groove, telling stories that can only be told with original words and music. The songs are slices of life, done with power, conviction, and soul, revealing creativity and versatility….”
Those magnificent stories, along with her scintillating stage presence, and – most importantly, her undying commitment in trying to heal the world through her artistry – makes Cynthia Scott one of our world’s most precious artistic and cultural treasures, and universally praised musicians of this generation. David “Fathead” Newman got it right when he said that, “Cynthia Scott is a master at lighting up a stage. Style, sophistication, and spunk: She’s got it all!” She does indeed!
Performing Ray Charles tributes with David Fathead Newman, Marcus Belgrave, John Hicks, Yoron Israel, Howard Johnson, John Menegon with Karen Newman behind Yoron Israel.