Performing Arts

Former Ray Charles backup singer brings one-woman show to Jubilee

Ray Charles performs March 16, 1979.
Ray Charles performs March 16, 1979. AP

A few weeks ago, Cynthia Scott was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. She was introduced by a nephew, who praised her integrity.

To her, that’s one of her proud accomplishments — even if those values may have set her back some.

“My integrity kept me from being famous,” she admits. “There [are] a few things in my personal life I might change, but I probably would do everything over again the same way.”

Scott’s biggest claim to fame was in the 1970s as a Raelette — a backup singer for Ray Charles — for two years, a gig that took her all over the world.

That experience has kept her singing career alive, at least enough for her to make a living doing what she loves. She shares her story in her one-woman show, One Raelette’s Journey, playing Friday and Saturday night as a fundraiser for Jubilee Theatre.

In the show, which was first seen in 2014 at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, the New York-based performer uses multimedia photos and video as a backdrop for dramatic vignettes between songs, many of them her own.

The story begins with her growing up as the 10th of 12 children in El Dorado, Ark., the daughter of a preacher in the civil rights-era South.

She sang in church, and as a teenager joined a band called Funny Company featuring the Sisters of Soul, a white band with three black singers modeled after the Supremes. In the late ’60s, they performed at universities, homecomings, proms, any event that would book them.

While working for an oil company in Arkansas, she went to the airport to pick up plane tickets for her boss and saw a poster recruiting airline attendants — then called stewardesses — for Texas International Airlines (which would later merge with Continental).

That began her love of traveling, which would come in handy when she auditioned for Ray Charles’ band in the early 1970s. After being hired as a Raelette, her first concert with him was in Finland.

Europeans loved — and still love — American soul, R&B and roots music, and traveling on Charles’ private plane to gigs around the globe led to opportunities with other big names, including Count Basie and Joe Williams.

After she reported sexual harassment, she was fired, she says. That’s something she talks about in the show.

“I never wanted to be recognized for that,” she says. “It left a bad taste in my mouth, but I got over that.

“I went to Ray’s funeral [in 2004], ran into David ‘Fathead’ Newman. Then we started doing Ray tribute concerts.”

In New York she had also done some theater — and even studied with the legendary Uta Hagen at HB Studio — but didn’t love that as much as singing in concert.

“In music, you walk off that stage and you get a check,” she says. “But not in theater.”

That experience did inspire this show. One day in her kitchen she saw the image of her mother and started singing lyrics to a song she wrote about the death of her mother called Did I Know You?

It’s her mother’s sense of integrity, of not getting involved with people with lower standards, that set the tone for her career, she says. Scott says she has turned down deals with producers she thought to be shady.

She may not be famous, but she is happy with her choices, she says.

“I think the most important part is to not be needy and to know where you stand, and who you are,” she says. “If it doesn’t set well with your soul, you just don’t do it.”

One Raelette’s Journey

  • 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • Jubilee Theatre, 506 Main St., Fort Worth
  • $60
  • 817-338-4411; www.jubileetheatre.org
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