Blazing Her Own Trail
Cynthia Scott is a jazz vocalist known for her work as one of Ray Charles’s Grammy winning “Raelettes” and for her subsequent solo career. She was named Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State in 2004 and was Wynton Marsalis’s choice for the first person to give a concert in the Lincoln Center’s Rose Room. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2016.
Cynthia was the tenth of twelve children—six boys and six girls. She began singing at age four in her father’s church but exposed her ear to secular music by sneaking over to her older sister’s house, where she enjoyed, as she said, “a different set of rules.” As a teenager, she joined a band called the Funny Company featuring the Sisters of Soul, a girl-group modeled after the Supremes, and performed locally for proms and homecoming celebrations. A month after graduation, Scott secretly entered the annual Miss El Dorado pageant, which was then exclusively for white contestants. She won second runner-up and became the first woman of color to place in a white pageant.
In 1971, Scott moved to Dallas, Texas, where she became one of Texas Int'l Airlines’ first African-American stewardesses and spent her leisure time performing with Dallas jazz regulars such as James Clay, Claude Johnson, Roger Boykin, Onzy Matthews, Marchel Ivery, and Red Garland.
The following year, she received an early morning call from Ray Charles, who asked her to perform with him. She performed as a Raelette for two years, touring the world on Charles’s private plane. Scott went on to sing with a few of Charles’s band members: Hank Crawford, Marcus Belgrave, Leroy Cooper, and David “Fathead” Newman.
She received a call in the late 80’s from NYC club owner John Santini to sing at Chelsea Place as a duo. Scott hired pianists Larry Siebeth, Mike Wolf, Mike Pallera and a then undiscovered Harry Connick Jr. to accompany her and decided to make NYC her home. When Wynton Marsalis needed to test the acoustics at Jazz at Lincoln Center, they chose Scott's voice to test the acoustics of the room. After Scott moved to New York City, she completed her bachelor and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. She headlines at Birdland, Iridium, Smoke, Dizzy's, Kennedy Center and was featured vocalist at the Supper Club in Times Square for ten years. She worked with Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, and Wynton Marsalis. Scott sang at the Women in Jazz Festival at Lincoln Center and the International Women in Jazz Festival, and sang the music of Johnny Mercer in the musical Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Scott has been an activist in her music, writing and her singing and has released five albums to critical acclaim. In 2020 she released two singles, "Sweet Valentine" and "Hold on Stay Strong." As a writer, she has penned music about her mother’s struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and has written and performed a biographical one-woman musical, One Raelette’s Journey, in an effort to bring jazz music to theater production. One Raelette's Journey earned Cynthia a Jerry Kaufman award for best playwright.
Scott has taught for the City College of New York and The New School. She now teaches through her own studio and continues to perform widely.