Starting out at age 12 in her hometown Detroit, singing for local Baptist congregations, singer Rena Scott entered her first major talent contest at age 13. Soon afterwards came her very first recording “I Just Can’t Forget That Boy”, while still in high school. She blossomed as a performer, and began playing two or three gigs a night on weekends at local nightclubs. She opened for many of the Motown acts like The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Originals and many other popular artists. When the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin (also a native Detroiter) needed a third backup singer for a few gigs, the then 18 year old Scott got her million-to-one shot at singing onstage with her idol at the Pine Knob Ski Resort in Northern Michigan, and more importantly, in front of thousands at Carnegie Hall!.. Read more
“It was beyond my wildest imagination, the lights, the orchestra, the feeling of singing with her [Aretha] after loving her music for so long”, says Scott. “But it wasn’t just an amazing opportunity to sing with her, it fueled me musically and spiritually for the rest of my life. My time with Aretha did not last much longer – just a few more gigs and singing backup on one of her albums – but it was enough. In those days, I patterned my own singing after hers’.” Scott then started working to develop her own style as she listened to other artists like Patti Labelle, Gladys Knight, and Barbra Streisand. She emerged with a unique sound. Having had that one night experience at Carnegie, Scott vowed she would return there someday to perform.
As her star continued to rise, Scott began recording and/or touring with such greats as The Jazz Crusaders, David Ruffin, Bobby Womack, Ronnie Mc Nier, Phil Perry and Michael Henderson (with whom she recorded the smash hit “Take Me I’m Yours” from Henderson’s album “In The Nighttime” in 1979).
With her growing years of experience and popularity, Scott wowed many thousands in other places; first the nightclubs in Detroit, then later in Los Angeles. She toured in the 80’s with The Crusaders, and came on board with founding Crusaders members Joe Sample, Wilton Felder and Stix Hooper after the departure of Randy Crawford, performing a mirror image rendition of their 1979 pop hit “Street Life” for audiences who sometimes did not even speak English. She was performing for crowds of up to 50,000 people, touring top R & B and Jazz festivals in the U.S. and Europe that included the famous Montrose Jazz Festival in Montrose Switzerland. She shared the stage with legends like George Benson and Natalie Cole.
“What an incredible time that was, working with so many beloved legends and some of the best musicians in the world”, she says. “It was great having people screaming for more, reaching out to connect emotionally despite the language barrier. They may not have known what the words meant, but they could feel it in the music. I love it when it comes together…the music; the lights; the sound; the band; the crowd…like the song I wrote, ‘I Know It’s Right’… you could just feel the magic. Everything came together just right.”
After a handful of years away from the stage, Scott reunited with R&B singer Michael Henderson, for rousing performances at the famed Long Beach Jazz Festival; Milwaukee’s United We Funk Festival; and the Lithonia Jazz Festival outside of Atlanta. The two received thunderous ovations from audiences who time-tripped on the performance of their million-seller “Take Me I’m Yours”.
While she’s always made her living singing in clubs, singing backup, performing with legendary figures and doing jingles for companies like Levi’s 501 Jeans and Sunny Delight, the stop and start nature of Scott’s own solo recording career has made for an intense emotional roller coaster. After touring with Henderson on the strength of their hit single in 1980, Henderson’s record company Buddha Records signed her to a record deal. She recorded the half disco, half R&B ballad album titled ‘Come On Inside’. The album was produced by the powerhouse R&B team Mtume and Reggie Lucas, former jazz musicians who had scored pop hits for Stephanie Mills, Roberta Flack & Donnie Hathaway, Phyllis Hyman and Lou Rawls.
After the record company folded, she left Detroit for a short pit stop in Las Vegas where she did shows at Caesar’s Palace and the Landmark Hotel. She then decided to settle in Los Angeles to seek new recording opportunities. Before hooking up with The Crusaders, she had started writing songs with veteran producer and songwriter Skip Scarborough who wrote songs for LTD, Anita Baker, Earth, Wind & Fire and many other artists. In 1989 Scott re-emerged on Sedona Records with the album ‘Love Zone’, from which the first single “Do That To Me One More Time” hit the Billboard R&B Singles chart. The follow-up “I Could Use A Kiss”, which became her first video, also received extensive airplay.
Soon after, she once again fell victim to label traumas. There were three failed deals in all before Scott started a fruitful long-term business relationship with songwriter/producer Lloyd Tolbert, and emerged with her own independent label, Amor Records. Her label debut album, ‘Let Me Love You’, distributed by KES Distribution, showcased Scott on the sultry title track as right at home; singing soulfully about that first spark of romance. Yet the seductive invitation taps into something much deeper, reflecting the passion of her relationship to audiences worldwide over a fascinating musical lifetime. That same track “Let Me Love You” was featured in two key scenes of the HBO Cinemax film ‘Love and Action in Chicago’, starring Courtney Vance, Regina King, Kathleen Turner.
Says Scott, “My husband Curtis has been so supportive through all my ups and downs; and he was the one who pushed me to do this myself and give it everything I have. Years of rejection had depressed me, but I always knew I would come back strong and put everything into it. It is an emotional and financial risk, but it is worth it. Who better to invest in you than yourself? I am ok with who I am and I am back to stay. I can use my story to inspire others whose dreams are as vast as mine.”
Although music and the launch of Amor Records have taken priority in Scott’s creative world, she eventually plans to write a book and maybe even make a movie about her life. The musical trials and tribulations, as well as the triumphs, have been shadowed her whole life by some dark early years in Detroit. Marred by her parent’s difficult marriage and witnessing domestic violence against her mother, Scott as a little girl would sing and cry to take the pain away. Music was her outlet, and it continues to be an important part of her emotional and spiritual survival. She places her trust and faith in the presence of God’s grace. Rena is now an advocate against domestic violence. She speaks about the profound affect it had on her life in hopes that she can help someone else.
“The songs on ‘Let Me Love You’ reflect my growth through experiences, and those that people I know have been through,” Scott says. “All of these songs, ‘A Love Thang,’ ‘Good To Me,’ ‘Plaything,’ ‘I’ll Keep Coming Back,’ tell the story of life and love. There are good times and bad times. Life is a onetime journey that should be filled with lots of love. These are the things I’m passionate about, and the things I’ll continue to write and sing about.”
Currently, Scott is excited about her new CD “Take Me Away” released October 26th 2010. The 13-song set contains songs that Scott co-wrote and co-produced with Tolbert. It includes covers of some of her all-time favorites like “Joy and Pain ” and “Don’t Ask My Neighbors”.
Scott has not been back on the stage at Carnegie Hall since she was a wide-eyed teen singing her heart out behind Franklin. God has been testing her patience, but she is hopeful the day is coming. Scott is gifted with the talent, the drive, and the passion to continue rising to the top!
01 – Rena Scott – Remember (Let Me Love You, 2005)
02 – Rena Scott – In This Life (Astral 22 Rework)
03 – Rena Scott – Each Day Is Better (Take Me Away, 2010)
04 – Rena Scott – Joy and Pain (Take Me Away, 2010)
Background music during the interview:
Rena Scott – Plaything, Rena Scott – Move On It, Rena Scott – A Love Thang, Rena Scott – Let Me Love You, The Temptations – I Wish It Would Rain, Four Tops – One Chain Don”t Make No Prison, Aretha Franklin – Something He Can Feel, Rena Scott – I”ll Keep Coming Back, Rena Scott – Don”t Ask My Neighbor, Aretha Franklin – Respect (Live), Michael Henderson & Rena Scott – Take Me I”m Yours, Rena Scott – You Keep Trippin”, Rena Scott – Take Me Away, Rena Scott – Can You Stand The Rain, Rena Scott – Thank God For You, Rena Scott – In This Life