Esther Mae Scott, 86, a Washington singer and composer, died Tuesday at Washington Hospital Center. She suffered a stroke Oct. 8.
Mrs. Scott, widely known as Mother Scott, was one of the last survivors of the great era of Mississippi blues singers. A native of Bovina, Miss., she learned to sing and play the guitar as a young woman.
In her youth, as she recalled in court proceedings two years ago, she often traveled to New Orleans, "playing and having gigs and a good time with people like Bessie Smith, Lead-belly and Louis Armstrong."
Mrs. Scott, who had little formal schooling and who never learned to read music, began singing and compsoing professionally here in the 1960s after a long career as a housekeeper and baby nurse. Among her best-known songs were "This Little Light of Mine," God Called Adam," and "Keep A-goin."
Mrs. Scott's musical setting for "Keep A-going,'" a poem by a Georgia poet named Frank L. Stanton, ended up in the courts when she charged the makers of the 1975 Movie "Nashville" with copyright violation for unauthorized use of her song in the film.
Her lawsuit was thrown out by U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker last year and now is pending on appeal.
She composed her version of the song to celebrate her 80th birthday, she said, to make the point that "it takes you longer to wear out at my age than it do to rust out," and therefore it's wise to "keep a-goin."
Mother Scott said that many of her musical ideas came to her in dreams.
"I meditates and I wake up singing with someone like I did with 'God Called Adam," and get up and start writing the words what I sang with the angels and people like that," she once recalled.
Mrs. Scott left Mississippi in 1941 and lived in Baltimore and New York before coming to Washington.
Her first public appearances as a singer were at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, where she was a member for about 20 years, at the Washington Cathedral and other churches. After she became better known she sang at church meetings across the country, at nightclubs here and elsewhere, on radio and television, in parks and on the college circuit.
Mrs. Scott is survived by four children, Corean Robinson of Kansas City, Mo., Frank Scott of Vicksburg, Miss., Charles A. Scott of Kansas City, and Ruth Watson, of Pleasantville, N.J.; 14 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren; two sisters and a brother.