Scott first rose to national prominence as “Little Jimmy Scott” in the Lionel Hampton Band when he sang lead on the late 1940s hit “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”, recorded in December 1949, and which became a top ten R&B hit in 1950. Credit on the label, however, went to “Lionel Hampton and vocalists”, so the singer’s name did not appear on any of the songs. This omission of credit was not only a slight to Scott’s talent but a big blow to his career. A similar professional insult occurred several years later when his vocal on “Embraceable You” with Charlie Parker, on the album One Night in Birdland, was credited to female vocalist Chubby Newsome.
Scott’s career faded by the late 1960s and he returned to his native Cleveland to work as a hospital orderly, shipping clerk and as an elevator operator in a hotel.
Scott eventually resurfaced in 1991 when he sang at the funeral of his long-time friend Doc Pomus, an event that single-handedly sparked his career renaissance. Afterwards Lou Reed recruited him to sing back-up on the track “Power and Glory” from his 1992 album Magic and Loss, which was inspired, to an extent, by Pomus’s death. Scott was seen on the series finale of David Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks, singing “Sycamore Trees”, a song with lyrics by Lynch and music by Angelo Badalamenti. Scott was featured on the soundtrack of the follow-up film, Fire Walk With Me.
Also in attendance at Pomus’s funeral was Seymour Stein, founder and operator of Sire Records, who released Scott’s 1992 album All The Way, produced by Tommy Lipuma and featuring artists such as Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and David “Fathead” Newman. Scott was nominated for a Grammy Award for this album.
He followed this up with the album Dream in 1994, the jazz-gospel album Heaven in 1996 and an album of pop and rock interpretations entitled “Holding Back the Years” in 1998, notable for its version of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.