Jill Scott lights up the studio, stage, and screen
Generally speaking, as a performer Jill Scott is a woman of poise. Whether singing the deeply soulful songs that have made her a star — hits like "A Long Walk," "The Way," and "Golden" — or acting in films such as "Get on Up," the HBO series "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," and her recent guest turn on "Being Mary Jane," Scott is always in control.
No doubt that will also be the case when she hits the Orpheum Theatre stage on Tuesday in support of her latest No. 1 album, "Woman," which takes her rich soprano to the depths of heartache, the heights of joy, and the center of sassiness.
But if you want to see the Philadelphia native lose her cool, then tune into the Soul Train Awards, Sunday night at 8 p.m. on BET, and watch her accept the first-ever "Lady of Soul" award. A video tribute prepared for the event includes some big names singing her praises.
"They showed me this video, and it blew my mind," said Scott on the phone from her hometown, still sounding a little incredulous. "I wasn't prepared at all. They had some people on there that have basically designed my career for me, in a sense: watching them, learning from them, respecting and appreciating them. I wasn't ready." She adds, laughing, "They did that, and they were like, 'OK, now sing.' I don't even remember the singing part."
Q. You go to a lot of different places on "Woman," with some funky retro-soul stuff like the cover of the devastating pleader "You Don't Know" and the spirited, Aretha-esque "Run Run Run." And then there are some more contemporary slow jams with your trademark wordplay. Was it as fun to record as it sounds?
A. "Woman" is one of my favorite albums for a lot of reasons. I just feel, musically, it gives a crash course in a sense of all kinds of music. I really try to paint a picture, but keep it as simple and right now as possible.
Q. Did you choose to cover "You Don't Know" because the songwriter, Jerry Ragovoy, is also from Philly?
A. That's how I found it! I just started going through crates, basically looking for all the Philadelphia artists. And I was doing some research on Tina Turner and heard the song, and then found out there was an original. When I heard Carl [Hall]'s version, it just tore me apart. I thought, this is magic!
Q. You recently sang "Strange Fruit," the unsettling classic about the lynching of African-Americans in the South made famous by Billie Holiday, for the televised event "Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America." Was that tough to sing?
A. It was tough. It lasted, it hung, it stayed on me for about a day and a half. I was supposed to fly out the next day and I couldn't move. I felt like I was hung over or something, and I certainly was not. But the feedback has been great.
Q. It was an interesting special that seemed sincere in its desire to start a dialogue about race in this country, which is something I know you're interested in discussing.
A. Yeah, I've been talking about it. People have asked me why "Strange Fruit" was so ingrained in me. We shot "Get on Up" in Mississippi at a plantation that had become a bed- and-breakfast. How insensitive. And it's not one — there are many bed-and-breakfasts around the country that used to be plantations, and it's so disrespectful that these things even exist. And when they open it, they call it "Plantation Sunshine" or something. There's a negative connotation to the word. It brings back terrible memories for African-American people.
Q. You're touring for "Woman" now, but what is in the pipeline for acting gigs?
A. "Coco" is a film directed by the RZA, which was mad fun. I'm a huge fan of [his group] Wu-Tang [Clan], and have been since the first time I heard anything from them. I sincerely wish I could've worked with [deceased Wu-Tang member] ODB. I wish we could've done a jazz album together. It was an awesome experience watching the RZA direct and getting to know [costar, rapper] Azealia Banks, whom I just adore. I know she's typically around some level of controversy for this, that, or the other. I like that she's an individual, and I love that she's unafraid to be herself. I play a kind of a stiff professor, highly regarded, who teaches poetry and is in a little bit of a war with Coco, who is played by Azealia. And then there is [the drama series] "Snowfall," directed by John Singleton for FX, which is exciting because that's my favorite network right now. I cannot get enough of "American Horror Story"!
Q. So what does the Soul Train "Lady of Soul" honor entail? Does this come with a tiara? Is there a court of ladies in waiting?
A. I heard there's a parade, but they haven't told me when. [Laughs]
At Orpheum Theatre, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $39-$69. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com