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Merry Clayton

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Merry Clayton
Clayton in 2012
Clayton in 2012
Background information
Born (1948-12-25) December 25, 1948 (age 75)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
GenresSoul, gospel
Years active1962–present
MCA Records
Motown Gospel/Universal

Merry Clayton (born December 25, 1948) is an American soul and gospel singer. She contributed vocals to numerous tracks and worked with many major recording artists for decades, including a duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter".[1] Clayton is prominently featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about background singers and their contributions to the music industry.

Early life[edit]

Clayton was born in Gert Town, New Orleans, Louisiana. She was born on Christmas Day, and was given the name "Merry" because of the December 25th birthdate. She is the daughter of Eva B. Clayton and the 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 met members of the Blossoms, who convinced her to pursue a music career.[2]


Clayton's voice as a backing singer can be heard on songs by Pearl Bailey, Phil Ochs, Burt Bacharach, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Carole King, Tori Amos 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's sessionographies.[3]


Clayton began her recording career in 1962, at the age of 14. She first sang "Who Can I Count On?" as a duet with Bobby Darin, on his album You're the Reason I'm Living. In 1963, she recorded the first released version of "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)",[4] the same year that Betty Everett's version reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.[5] Early in her career, Clayton performed with Ray Charles (as one of the Raelettes).[4] At the time, Charles was the only artist her father would allow her to see at a live performance.[6]

Clayton is best known for her 1969 duet with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter" (on some releases her name is misspelled as "Mary").[4] According to Jagger, the collaboration happened partially by chance: Jagger stated that the band thought, "it'd be great to have a woman come do the… chorus." They called Clayton "randomly" in the middle of the night in Los Angeles, and she showed up to the studio "in curlers" and contributed her parts in a few takes, which Jagger remarked was "pretty amazing."[7] Clayton performed her parts while pregnant, soon afterward suffering a miscarriage.[8] Clayton was actually the band's second choice for the part; The Stones had asked Bonnie Bramlett to sing on the song, but Bramlett's husband Delaney Bramlett refused to let her perform with the Stones.[9]


In 1970, Clayton recorded her own version of "Gimme Shelter", and it became the title track of her debut solo album, released that year. Her solo version peaked at No. 73 on the pop charts. 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]

In 1972, she starred as the original Acid Queen in the first London production of The Who's Tommy.

In 1973, Clayton featured prominently on Ringo Starr's "Oh My My", which reached Billboard's Top 10 the following year. Along with her frequent partner Clydie King,[11] Clayton also sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama".[12]

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 chart singles.[4]


Clayton's 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 No. 45 on the Hot 100.[4]

In the mid-1980s, Clayton was in the gospel group Brilliance, formed by Della Reese.[13] They released an album on Atlanta International Records in 1986.

In 1987, Clayton co-starred with Ally Sheedy in the film Maid to Order.[4] That same year, she also played the character "Verna Dee Jordan" in the final season of Cagney & Lacey.[4]

In 1989, Clayton recorded a cover version of "Almost Paradise" with Eric Carmen.[14]

1990s and later years[edit]

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

In 2006, Clayton provided backing vocals for Sparta's album Threes, on the songs "Atlas" and "Translations". In 2013, she released The Best of Merry Clayton, a compilation of her favorite songs.

Clayton 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, in addition to the production crew for the film.

In 2014, Clayton provided vocals for G. Love & Special Sauce's album Sugar and in 2015, she was featured on two tracks of Coldplay's album A Head Full of Dreams.

In 2021, her solo album Beautiful Scars was released.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Clayton was married to jazz artist Curtis Amy from 1970 until his death in 2002.[16] Their son, Kevin Amy, has also pursued a musical career.[17] Her brother is Little Feat percussionist Sam Clayton.[18]

Clayton had a miscarriage upon returning home from recording "Gimme Shelter", according to the Los Angeles Times.[19]

On June 16, 2014, Clayton was critically injured and almost died after being involved in a car crash in Los Angeles, California[20] that caused both of her legs to be amputated at the knees due to her suffering "profound trauma to her lower extremities."[21]


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Label Peak chart
US[22] US R&B[22]
1970 Gimme Shelter Ode
1971 Celebration Ode
Merry Clayton Ode 180 36
1975 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow Ode 146 50
1979 Emotion MCA Records
1994 Miracles CGI
2021 Beautiful Scars Motown Gospel/Universal
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums[edit]

Year Album Label Peak chart
US[22] US R&B[22]
2013 The Best of Merry Clayton[23] Ode/Epic/SME 61
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Singles (selected)[edit]

Year Single Peak chart
US[22] US R&B[22] AUS[24] UK[25] CAN[26]
1970 "Gimme Shelter" 73 63 Gimme Shelter
1972 "After All This Time" 71 42 Merry Clayton
1973 "Oh No Not My Baby" 72 30 49 Non-album song
1975 "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" 45 42 71 Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow
1980 "Emotion" 53 Emotion
1988 "Yes" 45 79 70 77 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. ^ "Merry Clayton". Merryclayton.com. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  3. ^ Jorgensen, Ernst (1998). Elvis Presley: A Life in Music: The Complete Recording Sessions. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312185723.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Soul Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 47. ISBN 0-85112-733-9.
  5. ^ [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]
  6. ^ 20 Feet from Stardom. Dir. Morgan Neville. Perf. Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Jo Lawry. N.p., n.d. Web.
  7. ^ Springer, Mike. "Mick Jagger Tells the Story Behind 'Gimme Shelter' and Merry Clayton's Haunting Background Vocals". Openculture.com.
  8. ^ "FOR CLAYTON, THE GLOOM IS GONE". Los Angeles Times. March 13, 1986.
  9. ^ Paytress, Mark (2003). The Rolling Stones: Off the Record. Omnibus Press. p. 181. ISBN 9780711988699.
  10. ^ Heckman, Don (July 16, 1972). "Merry Clayton from 'Newahlins.'". The New York Times. pp. D11, D22, D24.
  11. ^ Russonello, Giovanni (January 14, 2019). "Clydie King, Top-Tier Backup Singer on Big Hits, Is Dead at 75". The New York Times.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Vanderknyff, Rick (June 6, 1986). "A RETURN TO GOSPEL : DELLA REESE TO SING AT FULLERTON RESTAURANT". Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ "Photographic image of record label". May 5, 2015. Archived from the original (JPG) on May 5, 2015. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  15. ^ "Merry Clayton: Beautiful Scars". AllMusic. 2021. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  16. ^ Voce, Steve (June 11, 2002). "Obituary: Curtis Amy". The Independent.
  17. ^ "Merry Clayton, co-star of Oscar-winning '20 Feet from Stardom,' soars on 'Beautiful Scars' after grisly crash". San Diego Union-Tribune. April 4, 2021. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Snowden, Don (March 13, 1986). "For Clayton, The Gloom Is Gone". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  20. ^ Lifton, Dave (June 20, 2014). "Legendary Singer Merry Clayton Seriously Injured in Car Accident". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  21. ^ Lifton, Dave (October 21, 2015). "Legendary Singer Merry Clayton Had Her Legs Amputated After 2014 Auto Accident". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  22. ^ a b c d e f "Merry Clayton". Billboard. Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  23. ^ "The Best of Merry Clayton". Amazon (company). Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  24. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 66. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  25. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 110. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  26. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles". Library and Archives Canada. July 17, 2013.

External links[edit]