Born and raised in southern California, vocalist Marilyn Scott counts among her earliest influences singers like Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Gladys Knight, Janis Joplin, Etta James and Sam Cooke. She began performing in local clubs and school functions when she was 15. She moved to San Francisco to attend college on an art scholarship, and fronted Top 40 and Latin-jazz bands around the San Francisco Bay area. Among the many friends she made was Emilio Castillo of Tower of Power, who recognized her gifts as a vocalist and hired her to do lead and backing vocals with the horn-based band. Those recording sessions led to her making her way back to Los Angeles as a studio session singer, where she recorded and performed with musicians and groups including Spyro Gyra, the Yellowjackets, Hiroshima, Etta James and Bobby Womack. The session work led to her being the only white female cast member to tour with the musical Selma, which dealt with the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Scott's first recording as a solo artist was a single version of Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows'' that hit the Billboard Top 100 and led to her first album, Dreams of Tomorrow, for Atco/Atlantic. Scott's second album, Without Warning, made her the darling of the jazz critics. Her base in Los Angeles and her years as a studio singer led to a lot of movie-soundtrack work, and her distinctive vocals have been heard on the soundtracks to Torch Song Trilogy and Twins. After teaming up with Bobby Caldwell, she recorded Sky Dancing, which became a hit in Japan and led to her own headlining tour of the country. In 1992, she recorded and released Smile, which featured a duet with Brenda Russell on "You Don't Know Me" and "That Man on My Mind."