Gospel Queen Naomi Shelton Gets Ready for Her 'Cold World'

BY Michael J. WarrenPublished Jul 25, 2014

In a situation that imposes limits on many and benefits no one, there has long been a impassable wall placed between secular and gospel music, as if there's a time, place and audience for both, but never shall they meet. Of course, this modern peculiarity is at odds with the personal histories of many rhythm and blues singers, those who nurtured their creative talents under church roofs.

Naomi Shelton's experience suggests that either those old barriers are becoming more permeable, or maybe there's just a universal appeal to what she and the Gospel Queens are doing.

"We haven't had no problems," Shelton tells Exclaim! "We have all sorts of young crowds, mixed crowds. They like what they hear. Sometimes they get a little confused by what it's about, but like I tell people, it's not gospel, it's soul music. If people pay attention to it, it's soul music with a nightclub beat."

Those familiar with Shelton's labelmates Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley will find themselves already accustomed to the style of beats that defines the Daptone Records sound. Much like on her 2009 debut, What Have You Done My Brother, her imminent Cold World album (out July 29 on Daptone) marries vintage Stax Records-esque recording techniques and technology with Shelton's optimistic raspy proclamations of love for a higher power.

"I don't write anything. I just talk, and while I'm talking, they write songs about me," she says.

"They" are Gabriel Roth and other frequent Daptone collaborators, and Shelton makes it clear, there is sense of family and trust within the modest collective.

"I got to tell people, I'm not a difficult person to deal with. They always tell you that. I'm not the one that's all about me, and whatever I say should go. I love a team player, I love to work as a team."

Shelton's comfort in working in a close-knit family atmosphere may go back to early days in a singing group with her sisters. But about 50 years passed between her leaving home for New York and the release of her debut album. And while that may seem like a wonderful lesson in persistence finally paying off, she sees it more as a continuation of what she's always been doing.

"Always singing, out in clubs, sitting in on people's shows, making sure one day someone's going to discover who I am," she says.

"One day Gabe [Roth] had heard us in the East Village and he liked my style of singing. It reminded him of James Brown, Sam Cooke and all those singers. So then we all connected with him and I and Cliff Driver, who's been my organist for many, many years. We go back over 40-something years ago. Then they decided let's try to cut something, and that's how it all came along."

Those old connections have led her down a widening path in her musical journey, taking her across North America and Europe this summer. Surprisingly though, this longtime Brooklynite does harbour some aspirations for a quieter life at some point.

"I hope something will have happened with this CD and I can make another one, and a couple years after that I hope I'll have made enough so I go to Alabama, get into a little townhouse and sit down and watch the fish go by. Like the catfish. They say that the catfish just sit and watch the fish go by."

In the meantime, there are still night clubs and festival stages to play, and Shelton isn't really showing any signs of slowing down.

"I always liked the song 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' I always claimed that from a little girl, because I claimed I'm going to be a singer. And sing to all kinds of people, not just in one place. I ask God every day to expand my territory, take me all over the world in countries where we can share love with one another."

On Cold World's aptly title "I Earned Mine," she tells us she's been working a long, long time, and with deep conviction proclaims, "If anyone ever earned anything, I believe I earned mine." She may not have written those words, but the sentiment is certainly self-evident to all those around her.

You can see Shelton's upcoming tour dates here.

Latest Coverage