Merry Clayton

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Merry Clayton
Clayton in December 2012 at a ceremony for Carole King to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Background information
Born (1948-12-25) December 25, 1948 (age 69)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Genres Soul, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer, actress
Years active 1962–present
Associated acts

Merry Clayton (born December 25, 1948) is an American soul and gospel singer and an actress. She provided a number of backing vocal tracks for major performing artists in the 1960s, most notably in her duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter."[1] Clayton is featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about background singers and their contributions to the music industry. In 2013, she released The Best of Merry Clayton, a compilation of her favorite songs.

Early life

Clayton was born in Gert Town, New Orleans, Louisiana. Clayton was born on Christmas Day, and earned her name due to the holiday. She is the daughter of Eva B. Clayton and Reverend A.G. Williams Sr. Clayton was raised in New Orleans as a Christian, and spent much of her time in her father’s parish, New Zion Baptist Church. After moving to Los Angeles, she joined the now famous singer group “The Blossoms.” [2]


Clayton began her recording career in 1962 at the age of 14, singing "Who Can I Count On? (When I Can't Count on You)" as a duet with Bobby Darin on his album "You're the Reason I'm Living." In 1963 she recorded the first version of "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)," the same year that Betty Everett's version reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.[3] Early in her career Merry performed with Ray Charles (as one of the Raelettes), who was the only artist her father allowed her to see live.[4] Others include Pearl Bailey, Phil Ochs, Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, and on several tracks from Neil Young's debut album. Clayton is often credited as having recorded with Elvis Presley but her name does not appear in Elvis sessionographies.[5]

Clayton is best known for her 1969 duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter," though on some releases her name is misspelled as "Mary." According to Jagger, this collaboration came about due partially to chance. Jagger states that they thought “it’d be great to have a woman come do the…chorus.” They called Clayton “randomly” in the middle of the night, and she showed up to the studio “in curlers” and did the verse in a few takes, which Jagger remarks is “pretty amazing.”[6] The Stones had asked Bonnie Bramlett to sing on the song, but Bramlett's husband, Delaney, refused to let her perform with the Stones.[7] Clayton also sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama".[8]

In 1970, Clayton recorded her own version of "Gimme Shelter," and it became the title track of her debut solo album and peaked at #73,[9] released that year. Her version would be the first of five singles under her name to crack the Billboard Hot 100. That same year she performed a live version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" for the soundtrack for the Robert Altman film Brewster McCloud and also contributed vocals to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's film Performance. In 1971 she co-wrote the song "Sho' Nuff" about her mother.[10] She starred as the original Acid Queen in the first London production of The Who's Tommy in 1972. In 1973, she featured prominently on Ringo Starr's "Oh My My", which reached Billboard's Top 10 the following year.

In the mid 1970s, Clayton sang on The Blackbyrds' R&B hit "Rock Creek Park" and continued to release solo albums throughout the next decade, notching several minor R&B singles. Her soundtrack work continued into the 1980s, including "You're Always There When I Need You", the title track for the 1980 Get Smart film The Nude Bomb, and the song "Yes" from Dirty Dancing, which hit #45 on the Hot 100. In 1987, Clayton co-starred with Ally Sheedy in the film Maid to Order and played Verna Dee Jordan in the final season of Cagney & Lacey. In 1989, she recorded a cover of "Almost Paradise" with Eric Carmen.[11]

In 1994 Clayton recorded backing vocals for and sang the "Man with the Golden Gun" bridge on Tori Amos's hit, "Cornflake Girl".

In 2006, Clayton provided background vocals for Sparta's album Threes on the songs "Atlas" and "Translations".

She was featured in the documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the Oscar for best documentary at the 86th Academy Awards. 20 Feet from Stardom also won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Music Film, with the award being presented to the featured artists as well as the production crew.

In 2014, Clayton provided vocals for G. Love & Special Sauce's album Sugar.

In 2015, Clayton was featured on two tracks on Coldplay's album A Head Full of Dreams.

Clayton has been sampled in various songs, most notably Watch for the Hook by Cool Breeze featuring Goodie Mobb and supergroup Outkast.[12]

Personal life

Clayton was married to jazz artist Curtis Amy from 1970 until his death in 2002.[13] Clayton's brother is the Little Feat percussionist Sam Clayton.[14]

She had a miscarriage upon returning home from recording "Gimme Shelter", according to the LA Times.[15]

On June 16, 2014, Clayton was severely injured in a car accident in Los Angeles, California.[16] Both of Clayton's legs were later amputated at the knees due to her suffering "profound trauma to her lower extremities" as a result of the accident.[17]


Studio albums

Year Album Label Peak chart
1970 Gimme Shelter Ode
1971 Celebration Ode
Merry Clayton Ode 180 36
1975 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow Ode 146 50
1979 Emotion Fontana
1994 Miracles A&M
2013 The Best of Merry Clayton[18] Ode/Sony
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Singles (selected)

Year Single Peak chart
US US R&B UK[19]
1970 "Gimme Shelter" 73 Gimme Shelter
1972 "After All This Time" 71 42 Merry Clayton
1973 "Oh No Not My Baby" 72 30 Non-album song
1975 "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" 45 42 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow
1980 "Emotion" 53 Emotion
1988 "Yes" 45 79 70 Dirty Dancing (soundtrack)
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


Year Film Role
1984 Blame It on the Night Herself
1987 Maid to Order Audrey James
2013 20 Feet from Stardom Herself


  1. ^ True, Rovi Christopher. "Merry Clayton Biography". AOL Music. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012.
  2. ^ "About".
  3. ^ [dead link]"No. 1 in May 1991 an excerpt from The Best of 1000 UK No.1 Hits". Omnibus Press. Retrieved May 11, 2008. [permanent dead link]
  4. ^ 20 Feet from Stardom. Dir. Morgan Neville. Perf. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Jo Lawry. N.p., n.d. Web.
  5. ^ Jorgensen, Ernst (1998). Elvis Presley : A Life in Music : The Complete Recording Sessions. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312185723.
  6. ^ Springer, Mike. "Mick Jagger Tells the Story Behind 'Gimme Shelter' and Merry Clayton's Haunting Background Vocals".
  7. ^ Paytress, Mark (2003). The Rolling Stones: Off the Record. Omnibus Press. p. 181. ISBN 9780711988699.
  8. ^ Dupree, Tom (October 24, 1974). "Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sweet Home Atlanta". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on March 27, 2009. Retrieved September 17, 2006.
  9. ^ "Merry Clayton- Gimme Shelter". Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  10. ^ Heckman, Don (July 16, 1972). "Merry Clayton from 'Newahlins.'". The New York Times. pp. D11, D22, D24.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "WhoSampled." WhoSampled. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 June 2017. <>.
  13. ^ Voce, Steve (June 11, 2002). "Obituary: Curtis Amy". The Independent.
  14. ^ Crazy Horse, Kandia (2004). Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock N Roll (First ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 205. ISBN 1-4039-6243-X.
  15. ^ Snowden, Don (March 13, 1986). "For Clayton, The Gloom Is Gone". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  16. ^ Lifton, Dave (June 20, 2014). "Legendary Singer Merry Clayton Seriously Injured in Car Accident". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "The Best of Merry Clayton". Amazon (company). Retrieved 2018-11-04.
  19. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 110. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.

External links

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