Jill Scott believes that every step in her long and prosperous career has been blessed with what she calls "divine timing."
First as a spoken word artist, then a singer-songwriter, finally as an actress.
"It's been 18 years of all of it," the acclaimed soul singer said during a phone interview to promote her co-headlining tour with Maxwell. "It's been the ride of my life. Everything has been a natural transition from one thing to the next, without me having to try or force myself to do anything. I definitely have worked at it, but I enjoy it. Whether you're writing or singing or acting, it's a craft. I want to represent the artist in myself."
Singing came first for Scott. The 38-year-old grew up an only child with a single mother, and listened to a variety of music: Manhattan Transfer, Davey Jones, Little Richard, Janet Jackson, The Police, Bette Midler. Scott learned to mimic those voices.
"I'm a pretty quick study when it comes to different sounds," she said.
She kept her multi-faceted voice to herself for years. Instead she spent a couple years reading her poetry in front of both large and small audiences.
"Eventually the words started making melodies," Scott said. "I really had no other choice but to sing. People seemed to enjoy that too."
Her break came via Roots drummer Amir "?uestlove" Thompson, who invited her to join the band in the studio. They co-wrote the song "You Got Me," which R&B singer Erykah Badu eventually performed. It won Badu and The Roots a Grammy in 2000 for Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group. Subsequently, Scott made her public singing appearance on the song during a Roots concert, filling in for Badu. Divine timing.
"I was ready," Scott said.
Since then she's released three studio albums and a live disc, winning three Grammys in the process. Her fourth collection, The Light of the Sun, is set for release this summer.
Scott garnered enough exposure to get the attention of producers and directors in Philly, who encouraged her to act. She took a couple years of acting lessons and appeared in several episodes of the UPN series "Girlfriends" in 2004. She went on to star in a couple Tyler Perry movies, to play the lead role in the HBO series "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" and to guest star on an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (one of her all-time favorite series).
"Everything starts with the word," Scott says. "So if a song is vulnerable and sensitive, my voice will change to match that. If I'm writing for the New York Times – which I consider a thoughtful, intelligent periodical – I try to write in that way. I'm a method writer, method singer, method actor."
Life in general inspires her writing.
"I enjoy all of it – the heartache and the confusion," Scott says. "I don't want to sound like a drama queen, but I do enjoy every feeling I feel. So I write about it and I explore it. I don't know if it helps, but it shines a light so that other people know they're not alone."
Scott can touch a nerve with her confessional words. People have quoted her lyrics to her on the street. They've cried with her, clapped, hugged. Scott says her ultimate objective with her art is to elicit an emotional response.
"What other goal is there?" she says. "To make people feel something and actually be alive. A lot of us are just living but not really alive while doing it."
Having established herself in multiple mediums, Scott doesn't favor one over the others.
"I'm my mother's child," she says. "One minute she's a painter, the next she's laying down hardwood floors, the next minute she's making pants. There's no particular I would even choose."
She does like to focus on one project at a time, however.
"Luckily it's been a really great year or two for me," Scott says. "I'll finish a movie, then a television show. It's all been really consecutive, which is great. I figure if I can have that kind of career, it's the kind of life I always wanted."
If there's any challenge, it's juggling such a resourceful livelihood with the pressures of being a new mother. Scott's son, Jett, turned 1 last month.
"It's given me a greater sense of purpose in all things," she says. "After being on the road for so long, you kind of want to stop and see what else there is."
Scott has considered going back to school to study theater or journalism. She dropped out of Temple University, where she studied to be an English teacher, to pursue her art.
"But having my son has motivated me to be better at what I'm doing, and really dig in deeper," she says.