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Naomi Shelton

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Sanctified soul sister Naomi Shelton rose to prominence in her late sixties as a member of Daptone records' retro-rooted soul/funk stable, along with her backing group the Gospel Queens, but her pedigree as a performer of both sacred and secular music stretches back much farther than that. Born Naomi Davis Shelton, in Midway, Alabama, she began singing in her Baptist church at an early age. After graduating high school in 1958, she moved first to New York, then spent time in Florida, where the greats of the burgeoning soul movement -- including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Lou Rawls -- inspired her to try her hand at singing secular R&B; she soon became a regular winner at a local talent show. In 1963 she settled back in New York and landed a regular gig playing three sets a night at Brooklyn's Night Cap. There she met pianist Cliff Driver, who would become her musical mentor and co-conspirator, on and off, and eventually, some three decades later, the musical director of the Gospel Queens. That group came together in the late '90s, by which point Driver had been off the scene for nearly 20 years, although Shelton never stopped singing, in both clubs (as Naomi Davis) and churches. In 1999, Driver got back in touch and invited her to become the new lead singer in a vocal group he'd been working with, and they began performing around New York, soon catching the attention of Gabriel Roth, then the head of Desco Records. Roth invited the pair to a recording session with the Desco house band, which yielded the "41st Street Breakdown" 45 (credited to Naomi Davis & the Knights of Forty First Street) and a couple of sought-after unreleased tracks. When Desco folded and Daptone arose in its wake, Davis remained in the fold, appearing live as part of the "Daptone Super-Soul Revue" contributing her vocals to a song by the Sugarman Three that was issued as a single, but it took nearly a decade for before Naomi & Gospel Queens got around to making a recording of their own. 2009 saw the release of What Have You Done, My Brother?, a full-length arranged by Driver, featuring members of the Dap-Tones, and split between versions of gospel classics and soulful originals penned by Roth under his Bosco Mann alias. Shelton & the Gospel Queens toured extensively in support of the album, including appearances at the The Monterey Jazz Festival, Bonnaroo, and Montreal Pop. In 2014, Davis, Driver, and Bosco Mann returned to Daptone, laying down a dozen new songs live in the studio. The results were released in July 2014 as Cold World. ~ K. Ross Hoffman