This summer, singer Jill Scott has been busy promoting her fourth studio album, “The Light of the Sun,” and wrapping up a critically acclaimed tour with Mint Condition, Anthony Hamilton, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Dougie Fresh.
But she’s also been an active supporter of her North Philadelphia neighborhood. Growing up in the late 1970s, Scott relied on her local community center as a place of refuge and a source of support. Almost 20 years later, when the Cecil B. Moore Community Center was in need of fundamental repairs and updates to remain open, Scott donated resources to keep the center functioning. She also started the Blues Babe Foundation to support students in under-served communities with college-related expenses.
Photo by Imani M. Cheers
Art Beat talked to Scott by phone in Los Angeles.
Your music career began as a spoken word artist and your lyrics are deeply personal. Can you single out any songs or poems in particularl that really let the world know, “Who is Jill Scott?”
It’s kind of hard to pinpoint myself in one place. I think that the songs keep coming, because I keep learning and growing and falling and getting back up, you know.
How do you feel that you’ve evolved as an artist over the last decade?
I’m stronger than I was initially. I’m more free than I’ve ever been in general. Musically, I’m more free because I’m running my life you know which feels really great. I know how to record now. I know what I need. You know I realized it took me only four albums but I realized that I like to be around musicians and DJs and emcees pretty much. If I’m going to be in the studio, that’s who I want around me. I like that energy, I like the spontaneity of it all. It just makes my creativity flourish. And that’s what I like. Now I know. Didn’t know that before.
You’ve also been acting in film and on TV, including ‘The Number One Lady’s Detective Agency’ on HBO. Do you have plans to continue acting or branching out into directing or producing?
I’ve directed a video with a very limited budget I’d like to continue that would be awesome. I love acting. I’ve been acting for almost 20 years now and it suits me. It feels good on my skin, I’d like to continue that. I’d like to continue that of course….I don’t want to play with acting, acting is a real craft. It’s a real job and if you don’t love it, don’t do it. And I happen to love it, and I do work really hard at it when I have the opportunity so you know acting, writing, directing, yes! Writing scripts and plays, absolutely! You know, I’m going to do as much as I can with this life and then I’m going to make sure to take some time off and be simple and ride my bike and hang out with friends. I think it’s all about [finding] a balance.
What inspired the lineup for your recent tour, Jill Scott’s Summer Block Party?
I invited all my favorites, I invited my favorite everything. My favorite DJ is Jazzy Jeff. My favorite beat box is Dougie, my favorite R&B band is Mint Condition, my favorite soul singer is Anthony Hamilton. I just invited my favorites and I just wanted people to have a really, really good time.
You studied secondary education at Temple University before breaking into the music industry. As an artist do you still consider yourself an educator?
Anytime you share life stories with other people, you know, you are acknowledging their humanity and kind of accessing some things about yourself, and other people start to expect things about themselves. It’s kind of like a fellowship. Just being able to communicate emotions and fears and triumphs to others makes them accept themselves, accept their fears and triumphs. It’s a give and take. As much I may end up educating someone, I’m always educated. Life has been pretty kind.
You founded the Blues Babe Foundation that assists students in underserved communities or programs or that promote leadership and academic excellence. What inspired this project?
I grew up in North Philadelphia and I went to the camp around the corner from my house. It was at the Cecil B. Moore Community Center. At the time it was called Connie Mac, and you know, it was safe, the drug dealers weren’t allowed to come on the premises, and I swam and had fun. I just enjoyed myself. I found out that they were closing the community center for lack of funds. It needed a new roof, it needed a new basketball court, it needed a whole list of things. So I just I thought, some kids are just like me who need a safe haven. Just a place to play, maybe meet with friends, maybe study, learn some things, you know, something outside of the box. And I ended up donating some money to that cause. Putting a roof on and fixing the pool and putting a new basketball court down and some lights up and one thing led to another.
I realized that there were kids like me that could go to school because they had good grades, but couldn’t necessarily afford transportation. Silly things that will stop you from doing your best! Books could be $80.00 a pop in college, and that can stop you. Even though you may have the tuition, you may not be able to eat. All the little things that add up. So I wanted to do something about that as well, so I created the Blues Babe Foundation, and basically I just service the kids that are in North Philadelphia.
I have this idea that if you take care of your own community then you make your community better, and therefore you give everybody a greater chance at making something special happen in their lives. So as folks realized the four corners of their block isn’t everything then it makes them aspire to see and do and want more. So that’s what the camp is about, there is grass and trees and fun everywhere and it’s safe and they play. I have people come in from banks and from the entertainment industry and scientists and lawyers, and all kinds of folks, just to show the kids that these things are possible. You know, dream a little dream.
What’s next for you?
What’s going on now? I’m going to work on another tour. I really enjoyed this one so I’m going to work on another one. I may end up taking this one to Europe, which could be a lot of fun. Because we haven’t done that in a while. I’m working on the next record slowly, very slowly, but it’s happening at all once, so I’m working on that and I’m really excited about this record. It’s everything that the nighttime is. So we’re going from the light to the dark, and I’m really thrilled about that.