While some artists choose to keep their private life cloaked in mystery, Jill Scott’s music was so rich with details about her most intimate thoughts, even a casual listener could tell that she was madly in love with her man.
From “He Loves Me (Lyzell in E Flat)” to “Bedda at Home,” much of Scott’s first two albums detailed her relationship with her husband and manager, Lyzell Williams. The songs were passionate, sensual, emotional and spoke of a love, while not perfect, so enduring that it seemed almost too good to be true.
As it turns out, it was — Scott’s soundtrack was a lot rosier than real life.
“Sometimes I think I try to hold on to the positive aspect so hard, I’m not really looking at the reality of life as well, or the opposite,” says Scott as she reflects on her recent divorce.
“The second album, when I listen to it now, it seems like I was really making a lot of affirmations, and I know personally I was going through a struggle with my marriage,” she adds. “I could hear myself apologizing for things that I had done in the past because I wanted to be OK now.”
Scott, 35, still has her struggles, but she sees them much more clearly on her latest album, appropriately titled “The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Volume 3.”
“I’ve stepped more into my original me than I have been in a long time — just coming from underwater,” says Scott. “I didn’t even know I wasn’t breathing, but I’m breathing again.”
And flourishing. This Friday, she appears in a scene-stealing role as a downtrodden wife in Tyler Perry’s movie “Why Did I Get Married,” and she just finished wrapping “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” with Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, who cast her in the starring role.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Scott, who finalized her divorce just as she started recording her album, finished the Perry flick and filmed the Minghella movie in the southern African nation of Botswana. She proudly tells of how she mastered the nation’s accent so well that locals would try and speak to her in their native language. She also fell in love with the region, and vows to move to the continent soon.
“If all goes well, I would love to spend six months out of my year in Africa,” she says. “I want to create music there, I want to grow a garden. I miss the sky.”
But Scott, a trained actress who has appeared in plays, sitcoms and independent films, almost passed on the opportunity entirely. She initially begged off requests to audition, exhausted from filming the Perry movie, dealing with her divorce and her mother’s cancer diagnosis (she has since been declared cancer-free).
After she got the role and started filming, “I was terrified, and I quit maybe once a week, and I had a nervous breakdown maybe once a week — internal, my own private breakdown.”
But whatever emotional changes she was going through, it was nothing compared to the upheaval of her marriage. She and Williams had been together for 13 years. Not only was he her musical muse, he was intricately involved with her career.
Steve McKeever, who signed Scott to his Hidden Beach label years ago and is the executive producer on her latest album, says she celebrated the relationship so much “she was almost evangelistic about it, even in concert. For something that was so important to her to fall apart — to not stay together — has got to be one of the most traumatic chapters in anybody’s life.”
Scott believes including Williams so much in her career on the business side led the marriage to collapse.
“Working together was a mistake, because I have to live separate lives. My life on the road is one thing. I’m very focused, I’m very dedicated, I do what I came to do with all my heart. but when I come home, I want to do what I came to do with all my heart. I wanna cook, I want to be loved, I want to give love,” she says. “Once we stopped working together, there was nothing else to talk about, there was nothing else to do, and that’s very lonely.”
Scott tapped into some of that pain during her portrayal of an overweight, emotionally abused wife in “Why Did I Get Married.” Perry recalls one scene which required Scott’s character to break down.
“A lot of that is ad-libbed ... that was her stuff coming out,” Perry says. “She brought everything that she had experienced in life to that role.”
Though Scott recently called the end of her marriage one of her greatest regrets, she holds no bitterness against her ex-husband: “He’s a good person, he’s very kindhearted in a lot of ways, and he should never be vilified by anyone because they didn’t live in our house,” she says firmly.
She has no regrets about sharing their love with listeners. She still loves those songs, and sings them in concert. And when she finds someone to share her life with once again, she expects to express that in song as well.
“That’s what I do. I share the light and the dark and everything in between,” she says. “It all shows up.”