A Detroiter-turned-New Yorker more knowledgeable about music, and more serious about its appreciation than the average person, recalls seeing a young singer/poet/songwriter named Jill Scott at a nightclub in the Big Apple.
This was in 1999, the year before the release of Scott’s introductory album, “Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1,” a pivotal force in the emergence of the retro-soul movement as well as a launching pad for the artist.
The transplanted Detroiter said there were fewer than 40 people in the club although the facility could hold far more than that. If Scott was disappointed, she didn’t let it show.
On the contrary, she gave the small audience her all, as though she was performing for thousands at Carnegie Hall.
The patron was impressed and felt that, more than likely, a breakthrough was imminent. It was just a matter of time and circumstances.
Scott, born in Philadelphia, had attended Temple University with plans of becoming a high school English teacher. But her creative side beckoned and, like any true artist, Scott responded, initially entertaining audiences as a spoken word artist.
Response to her first album was immediate, particularly from females who related to her highly personal yet universally resonating lyrics. Several more successful albums followed, including “Experience: Jill Scott 826+,” “Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2,” “Collaborations,” “Live in Paris,” and “The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol. 3.”
Scott also proved to be a formidable actress, mostly notably in Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” and “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” filmed in Botswana and airing on HBO. Her latest film venture is Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married Too?” Following is a Q and A with Scott.
Kam Williams: Hi, Jill, thanks so much for the time.
Jill Scott: My pleasure, thank you.
KW: Congrats on doing a great job in this sequel which I feel improved on the original.
JS: Thank you. I’m really excited about it.
KW: How was it being reunited with everybody?
JS: It was so nice. It really was. It’s just a pleasure to be around people that you like and that you have a good understanding of. We clicked in the first film, and never really separated after we walked away from each other.We still called each other. “How’re you doing?” “How ya been?” “How are the kids?” “How’s the wife?” And then, here it is a couple of years later, we’re doing another film, and everybody just sank right back into character.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman says she loves your acting, and was wondering whether there are any plans to resume shooting “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.”
JS: I certainly hope so. We’ve been talking to HBO about resuming. The reason why we didn’t continue shooting was because I was pregnant and Ramotswe was not pregnant! (Chuckles) So I had to wait until I after had my child, and then once I did, I felt he was too young to travel on a plane for 16 hours. So that was one of the reasons why we went on hiatus. At this point we’re looking at scripts and trying to see how to continue the show because the feedback and excitement has been exceptional.
KW: (People also say) they thought your accent on the show was incredible, and almost did not believe it was you speaking. How did you perfect it?
JS: What’s funny is that I spent about a month and a half learning the wrong accent. I didn’t know it was wrong until after I arrived in Botswana. The people of Motswana said, “What are you talking about? That is not a Botswana accent. You sound like you’re from Zimbabwe.” And they are very particular if you are going to represent their culture. Their dialect is specific, so I had to unlearn everything I had learned, and then learn again.
KW: Why do you refer to the people of Botswana as the Motswana?
JS: You live in Botswana, you speak Setswana, and you are Motswana.
KW: How has motherhood changed your views on life and career?
JS: Well, I am making an effort to truly live. I don’t mean to imply by that that I haven’t been alive before, but with my son being here and such a powerful force in my life, he’s given me a freedom to be more. I think that sometimes we can get stuck, and just the fact that he’s here says so much to me about my own existence.
I didn’t think I’d be able to have children, and this level of blessing is something I can’t even put my finger on. I don’t even know where to begin to describe the emotion. I feel like I have a lava stick in my spine that’s propelling me forward to do larger things like going on tour with Maxwell, doing stadiums, and leaving my old record label to look for a new one that can support my new effort 100 percent. I appreciate my old label very much, but it’s time to move forward. So, my son has given me the courage to get out of any box that I’ve been in.
KW: (People) think your music is beautiful and as smooth as silk. They say, Philly has produced more than its share of talented artists. Do you think that growing up in Philadelphia has tempered your work?
JS: Yes, this might sound terrible, but there has been segregation in Philadelphia for many years. The Italians live around Italians. The Greeks live around Greeks. Spanish people live around Spanish people, particularly Puerto Ricans. And Black people live around Black people.
That makes us culturally thick, because if you want to hear real Puerto Rican music, you go to Little Puerto Rico. If you want to eat real Italian food, you go to Little Italy. Everybody’s welcome in any neighborhood in Philadelphia.
KW: It isn’t like Boston where a Black person couldn’t even walk through an Irish or Italian neighborhood when I lived there.
JS: Well, in Philadelphia, you are welcome, and that’s the City of Brotherly Love. I think that makes us culturally thick and sound, so you can experience all kinds of cultural authenticity.