Those who knew Billy Scott said his lasting legacy is how unselfish he was in championing beach music.
“He wasn’t trying to promote himself at all,” said Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, who has counted himself a fan of Scott’s music since he was a child.
Harry Turner, president of the Beach Music Association International, said Scott was probably the best ambassador of the genre there ever was.
Scott, whose beach music hits included “I Got the Fever” and “California,” died Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., following a short battle with cancer.
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He was 70 years old and leaves behind his wife, Gail.
Lulu Quick, a friend of Scott’s and an employee at Fat Harold’s Beach Club in North Myrtle Beach, said she was notified of his passing early Saturday morning by another friend.
“He was an excellent entertainer, just a sweet person. Would give you the shirt off his back,” said Quick, who added her friendship with Scott went back to 1974.
Turner said Scott’s illness came about suddenly within the last month.
At his 70th birthday on Oct. 5, Scott was in high spirits and good health, Turner said. A few days later, he complained of stomach pains that progressively got worse. He backed out of an appearance at the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Oct. 11 because of severe pains.
Scott eventually checked himself into a Charlotte hospital and tests determined he had liver and pancreatic cancer.
“It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen a cancer move so fast,” Turner said.
He saw Scott for the last time Thursday night. Despite his deteriorating health and weight loss, Turner said his friend was in high spirits.
“He was one of the most amazing people you’ll ever be around,” Turner said.
Winston-Salem, N.C., resident John Hook, author of the Carolina Beach Music Encyclopedia, remembered arriving in North Carolina on July 4, 1975. Three nights later, he saw his first beach band at a place called Paul’s Lounge. The performers were Billy Scott and The Prophets.
“Thereupon ensued a friendship in excess of 35 years,” Hook said.
Aside from making a new friend, what Hook recalled about that night was how Scott told the crowd he was about to sing a song by a good friend of his. These friends were people like Sonny Turner of The Platters, he added.
Hook was impressed to learn, years later, that Scott actually did know all those people and did count them as friends.
“He was one of our great imports out of West Virginia,” Hook said.
Scott was originally from Huntington, W. Va. and raised on a musical diet of rhythm and blues and soul. In his early career as a member of The Scottsmen and various incarnations of The Prophets, he was labeled an R&B singer.
But when he settled in the Carolinas over 30 years ago, he got tagged as a beach music singer. It wasn’t a title he didn’t initially like.
“I kind of fell into it, it was there, and all the songs we were doing were R&B and soul and then this beach music term came up in the Carolinas and it just became a part of what we were doing,” Scott said in a 2000 interview. “But I didn’t particularly like it until I realized this is where we were, and of course everybody would rather be a big fish in a little pond.”
Edge saw Scott perform for the first time when he was nine years old. He quickly became the future politician’s favorite beach performer growing up.
Scott made many trips to the Statehouse, Edge said, to promote beach music and emphasize its importance to South Carolina’s roots and heritage.
“That’s where I found him to be someone that was very unselfish,” Edge said.
Diane DeVaughn Stokes, chairwoman of the Myrtle Beach Cultural Arts Advisory Committee, said Scott was recently working on a new project: working with school booster clubs to bring beach music legends to area schools.
“He believed that the only way to keep beach music thriving was to reintroduce it to the youth,” she said.
Stokes and Scott recently co-hosted the second annual Beach Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Coastal Carolina University.
After the ceremony, Stokes said she got a call from Scott, thanking her for her help.
Scott, Stokes recalled, said he’s a great singer but not a very good public speaker, and his co-host gave him confidence.
“It’s a tremendous loss to the Myrtle Beach community,” Stokes said.