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Michigan State University

Note by Note

Randy Scott holding saxophone

Note by Note

When Randy Scott, ’92, was a young saxophone player, he found a mentor who would change his life. Today, Randy Scott is that mentor.

When Randy Scott had the chance to choose a musical instrument in fourth grade, his choice was a foregone conclusion. After all, he had long ago been “Grover-ized.”

The son of two music-loving parents, Scott’s childhood home in Baltimore was rarely quiet. But, while other homes were filled with chart-topping hits, Scott’s mother favored the music of saxophonist and jazz pioneer Grover Washington Jr. In the years that followed, Scott pursued his passion for sax, spending his afternoons playing along to Washington Jr.’s records, note by note.

Recognizing their son possessed talent and passion belying his age, Scott’s parents rewarded his straight A’s with an opportunity to meet his idol, Grover Washington Jr. This meeting would change the 12-year-old’s life and unlock a lifelong mentorship.

As a teenager, Randy’s status as an emerging talent forced a decision: attend Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music or enroll in Michigan State’s Classical Music program. Once again, the presence of Grover Washington Jr. loomed large, nudging Scott toward East Lansing and the more well-rounded musical education MSU offered. An education that wouldn’t come without its challenges as Scott found himself immersed in a new world, surrounded by gifted musicians, under the exacting and inspiring tutelage of professors like Dean James Forger and Ron Newman. And he thrived.

“My junior year,” Scott recalls, “I did a show on campus featuring the comedian Sinbad. At the time, he was the host of the TV show, “It’s Showtime at the Apollo.” After the show, he said ‘you should really be on Showtime.”

But first, the cash-strapped college kid had to engineer a way to get to New York City. So, Scott got creative.

“In February, I posted flyers that said, ‘send your sweetheart a song for $5 performed live by me.’ It just so happened there was a snowstorm that weekend and I’m trudging through the snow, carrying my instrument in one hand and a boombox in the other, playing for couples.”

The plan worked. Undeterred by the merciless atmosphere of Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Scott went on and won. Then won again. And once more. As a three-time winner of “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” Scott was quickly offered a record contract with Warner Bros. Although he turned that deal down, he knew he was on the cusp of realizing his dream of becoming a professional musician.

Today, Randy Scott is an internationally celebrated jazz artist with several Billboard #1 hits to his name; a Grammy-nominated producer for his work alongside Vickie Winans; a contemporary of musical luminaries like Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond; a two-time White House performer; and the recipient of the NAACP Walter Francis White Service Award.

Most importantly to Scott, he’s a devoted husband, father and, in a fitting twist of fate, an influential music teacher in Southfield Public Schools, where he impacts the lives of students from all walks of life with his inspiration and guidance.

“My plan was to stay for one year,” Scott says. “One year turned into 24. It became a passion. The connection that I’m able to make with the kids. The mutual respect. And them knowing I genuinely care about them. That’s the equivalent of being on stage for me.”  

Contributing Writer(s): Vic Samper

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