Shirley Scott was born on March 14, 1934, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, and died on  March 10, 2002, in  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. She studied piano and trumpet as a child.

Scott switched to organ in the mid-50s, working in small groups with a saxophone leader and a drummer and became very popular. Her musical associates included outstanding jazzmen such as Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Stanley Turrentine, whom she was married; Jimmy Forrest and Dexter Gordon.

A gifted player with an eclectic style that encompassed the blues and bebop, Scott was one of only a handful of organists to satisfactorily fit a potentially unsuitable instrument into a jazz setting. In the 80s she moved into education, teaching jazz history at Cheney University, Pennsylvania, and served as a church music director and jazz promoter.

Scott's career received a boost in the 90s, when the Hammond organ became fashionable once more, but her health was affected by her use of the diet drug combination fen-phen which was later banned. Confined to bed in her later years, Scott died of heart failure in March 2002.