by Danielle Kosann
Born into a family of musicians, 66-year-old Naomi Shelton grew up singing gospel with her sisters at churches throughout Alabama. Eventually, she moved to New York, where she spent most of her life performing soul music in Brooklyn nightclubs. Now, more than forty years since her arrival in New York, Naomi recently released her first full length album, "What Have you Done, My Brother?" with her band, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens. Produced and musically directed by Cliff Driver, with former James Brown bassist Fred Thomas and powerful vocals by Edna Johnson, Cynthia Langston and Bobbie Jean Gant, the album testifies to Naomi's deep roots in gospel and soul.
We sat down with Naomi to ask her a few questions about her band's new album and what motivates her as a performer.
You must be so excited about your new album. I know you've been doing this a long time and this is your first album. How does it compare to what you've done in the past? How does it feel to finally release it?
Well, we had two CDs before this, but this is the first on this record label [Daptone Records]. It was a dream I had years ago—and I knew I was going to make it. But, all these years went by before [we made it] because it just wasn't the time. I had to wait for my time.
You and the legendary pianist Cliff Driver collaborated on this album, but have been performing together for a long time, if I'm not mistaken. How did that relationship come about?
I was the house singer at The Night Cap in Brooklyn, and whatever band came in to play would back me up. So Driver came in one day, and that's how we connected. Then we ran into each other a few years later. He was inspired by my voice and we started rehearsing together and he got my voice together, helped me project, and we got a few gigs. We separated a few times but always stayed in touch.
Your music is deeply rooted in both gospel and soul. Who and what inspires you? Anyone in particular?
Sam Cooke, The Blind Boys of Alabama...I didn't really have a lot of other people I knew when I was coming up. Those were the majors. Aretha Franklin, the original Davis Sisters...
Read the rest of the interview after the jump.