‘In a full, beautiful and abundant way’
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: JILL SCOTT
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
Three-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter. New York Times bestselling poet. Critically-acclaimed actress. These are just a few of the titles held by Jill Scott.
While her industry portfolio continues to diversify, Scott’s roots will always be in music. She began her career in the late 1990s by collaborating with such icons as The Roots, Will Smith, and Common. She is now a true multimedia brand — across books, clothing, TV and film and philanthropy. Large and small, screen credits to her name include “Baggage Claim,” “Steel Magnolias,” “The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency,” and “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?” Her last album, 2011’s “The Light of the Sun,” was a chart-topper, and she is due to release a new LP later this year. The first single on that album will be the powerful, gospel-inflected lament “You Don’t Know.” As if she weren’t busy enough, Scott in 2002 founded Blues Babe, a nonprofit foundation that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support minority students pursuing college degrees.
She sat down with Las Vegas Black Image for a wide-ranging discussion about the origins of her new song, life as a single mother, future entertainment pursuits and why love can be so right and go so wrong.
Tell us more about your new single, “You Don’t Know.”
I heard that song four years ago, and at the time I was looking for a song with a Philadelphia sound with soul voices and a different musical approach. I heard this one song on a Tina Turner compilation, and I thought it was magnificent. I loved the song for so long, I listened to it for four years and then decided to record it. You can’t just sing a song like that. You have to know what you are talking about. You have to believe it.
Does a good song start with a great poem?
No, poems and songs work separately. A poem tends to be very silent. I don’t necessarily hear a melody when I write a poem. But, some poets
write with a melody in their minds. I don’t; I am looking at the words. The words matter to me more than anything else. When I am writing a song, sometimes the melody come first. Sometimes the lyrics come first and it is an inspirational type of thing. Sometimes I have to wait for the inspiration and be patient. I never really know when it will happen.
Happy Mother’s Day! What can you tell us about your approach to motherhood, your son, and advice to other mothers raising sons in today’s climate?
This is the most fun I have ever had. I am really enjoying watching him grow into his own person. I notice that people tend to put things on children. I notice people making comments like, “You have good hair.” That statement has always bothered me, “good hair.” What is that? I live in an environment where there are not a lot of brown people. My son calls us “gold people,” because we are people of the sun. I like him so much and the way he thinks. But I think it is important for me as a mother to remind him to appreciate his beautiful brownness. He calls himself “gold.” I try my best to remind him and to make sure he looks at his heart and enjoys his little spirit. I don’t want anyone around who would try to diminish that. So, mostly I reiterate and affirm his power and his beauty. He’s my lion and I am his mama lion. I am really enjoying his dual personality and he is not afraid of much. You really don’t know how well you have done as a parent until your child grows up and becomes an adult. It’s the hardest, most fulfilling job. Scary, exciting, humbling, confusing and the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Will the “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” ever return to HBO?
I stay hopeful when it comes to the “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” I stay hopeful because it was a good show with
morals, and showing a completely different country within the [African] continent. That was exciting, and I hope it comes back. But I don’t have any plans to shoot the show again any time soon. I am working on a film this May that I am pretty excited about. I don’t know what I can say to you about it as of yet.
Have you ever wanted to play a musical legend in a movie role?
As a matter of fact, I am a huge Phyllis Hyman fan — and I would like to play her. I bought the rights to her life story a few years ago, but these things take time. I would love for this to come to fruition. She was an incredible talent. She was around so many other amazing artists. She was bipolar, and there is an amazing story to tell there.
To what do you attribute your soulful musical expression and artistic authenticity?
Honestly, I have been around some amazing women. From growing up down the street from a crackhead who lived down the block, to the mother of four coming home exhausted from working so hard but still managing to greet her neighbors, I was exposed early to life’s effects on people and their realities. I grew up with my head between my grandmother’s thighs getting my hair braided and listening to her stories. I had so many elders in my neighborhood that I would sit on their porch and listen to their stories. I was also scolded by everyone if need be. All of my neighbors were active in my rearing as a child. I saw real official black love between my grandfather and grandmother. My Uncle Dave and his wife, Denice, expressed so much love for each
other, I got a chance to see what that looked like, feels like and how special it is. So I think that — more importantly than anything else — influenced a real connection to humanity, contributing to my artistry. My grandmother and mother continue to assure me about what He [God] is all about. Not in a religious type of way; in a full, beautiful and abundant way that everywhere God is.
Will you ever do a gospel CD?
More than likely; but not in a traditional sense of what gospel is. I have to rediscover what it is, what it means and how to approach it. It wouldn’t be like anything else.
What is your secret for staying in physical shape?
I wish I had a secret for staying in shape. I fluctuate a lot in my weight. I am subject to my emotions. I love that about myself, but sometimes it can be a little frustrating. It’s probably one of my favorite things about myself, but my weight will go up or down according to how I am living. Sometimes I fall off the wagon and I do what I want to do, and be so happy about it. Then I will say, ‘that’s enough,’ and I will get on my bike and ride around.
That is probably one of my favorite things: riding my bike. I don’t like to work out at all. I have to find things I really like to do and that are fun. I like to swing when we go to the park and it helps your abdomen, activating your stomach muscles. I also like to jump rope and play football — running around and catching the ball. I stop beating myself up about my weight a long time ago. I notice that people have more issues with my size than I do. I can’t speak for them. I don’t need them to like my appearance, just the music that comes out of me or the film that I am in. Hopefully, people experience some kind of awakening, some kind of interest, some kind of education and some kind of fun through my art. That’s the goal.
Do you think you will do another “Why Did I Get Married?” movie?
It all depends on the timing and the story line. I have to admit — I am also interested in what happened to my character, Sheila. Where is she now?
How do you manage time for your career and motherhood?
Sometimes it works great when I get enough sleep and exercise. But it often takes a lot of prayer. I do have my village who helps me. My cousin lives with us, and she helps us out so much and I get a lot of work done.
Do you cook?
No, not really. I am more of a salad maker and an amazing sandwich kind of mom. I will make a homemade soup occasionally, and we eat a lot of raw vegetables.
What inspires you to keep growing and expanding your artistry?
Well, I wish I had something really deep to say — but I just remember growing up and watching my mom and seeing how she had so many jobs. She could do anything. I always liked that about her. Anything she wanted to do, she went out there and tried it. She did well at all the things she tried to do, and then would go on to accomplish another goal. She was a Renaissance woman when I was growing up. I learned early on to not let anything stop you. For me, I want to continue to explore new things and grow — because it’s fun! It gives you something to talk about. A new commitment and something new to communicate. It keeps my spirit alive to learn something new and try something new. I don’t want to be bored.
Where do you think we go right in love? Where do we go wrong?
I can only speak for myself. I think whenever I have gone wrong in love was because I didn’t listen to myself. I really believe we know when we are headed down the wrong direction. There is something in you that won’t let go, and we choose to ignore it. When I ignore it, I end up in some kind of pain. You must pay attention. Listen to your inner voice, and know yourself. This only an observation, not a judgment. I see a lot of my sisters making decisions based on tangible things. For example, choosing a mate based on material things such as a car or if a person has an expensive home. Choosing love based on materialistic things is both unfair to you and the other person. Tangible things can be lost, stolen, burned and destroyed. I have learned thus far that friendship is the most important thing. Being really your authentic self and being cool with somebody is a beautiful way to start a relationship and not jumping directly into intimacy. That can cloud things, but if you are looking for only a fun time, then do what you want to do. But if you are looking for more out of a relationship, you have to take time and be friends. Try your best to create a friendship — and if it is easy, you are headed on the right track for love. But if it is a challenge at every step and communication is hard? That is a flashing warning sign that this might not be what you are looking for in love.
Do you have any upcoming plans to perform in Las Vegas?
I would love to come to Vegas to perform. I just don’t know where to perform where there is not a gaming energy. I would like to perform in a theater in Vegas. Just to change it up because so much of Vegas is about gambling and the sounds of gambling. I would like to perform somewhere in Vegas that has a different vibe.
Las Vegas’ Smith Center would be great!