An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Better Late Than Never: Soul Singer Hits National Spotlight


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt.


SHELTON AND THE GOSPEL QUEENS: (Singing) Moving and I feel all right. Here's a song you'll wanna write.

NAOMI SHELTON: From a little girl at the age of six, I made up my mind that I'm going to be a singer.

WESTERVELT: And that's just what Naomi Shelton did. She sang in churches in the deep South. She sang in nightclubs in Brooklyn year after year after year. But the record industry never came calling. That is, until Naomi Shelton was in her 60s. That's when the specialty soul label Daptone discovered kindred spirits in Shelton and her backup singers, The Gospel Queens.


SHELTON AND THE GOSPEL QUEENS: (Singing) All my money is gone and spent. I got love - love in my heart and I feel all right.

WESTERVELT: That's from Naomi Shelton's new album, "Cold World." She grew up in Alabama and Florida, singing in the church. But she really fell for those artists who took the spirit of the church into the world of pop and soul music.

SHELTON: Listened to Sam Cooke, The Staple Singers, James Brow, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett. So I got inspired through those singers years ago.

WESTERVELT: Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding - I mean, those are secular folks. A lot of gospel lovers at the time were a bit scandalized by those secular singers. What did you think back then? You fell in love with them?

SHELTON: I fell in love because, you know what, I listened to the lyrics. And more-so, a lot of people listen to just the beat of a song. But I listen to the words because the words is what has meaning. And I always liked the song, I know one day change going to come. And I held on to that all of my life until I got 66 years old when my first CD came out. And it's from my background - I guess from my family in Alabama that kept me inspired in church. Then once I left home, graduated, and I just kept it going. And from one club to the other until I said, one day somebody will recognize me, and that I will not give up. And I just kept it moving - that faith.


SHELTON AND THE GOSPEL QUEENS: (Singing) Love. Keep me moving. Moving. Moving on.

WESTERVELT: Was there any tension in the family saying, you know, Naomi, you got to get back to the church?

SHELTON: I'll tell you when I told my dad - I mean, I did show business for many, many years. And I told my dad - but I didn't mean before he went home to glory that I was in the club. So he said to me, you know, daughter, don't worry about it because long as the heart don't change. He said long as it's all about love, keep doing what you're doing.


SHELTON AND THE GOSPEL QUEENS: (Singing) Well, I'm standing by the train station with my ticket in my hand. I know this train bound for the Promised Land. Lord. Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. I'm waiting on you.

WESTERVELT: You know, I love the song. I love a lot of the tunes off your album. But "Bound For The Promised Land" is great. It's gospel, a little bit of rock 'n roll, R&B. How much of this new album is going to church and how much is going to the club?

SHELTON: I just figure whichever way it's going to go - some may go to church, some may go to the club. I call it soul music. It's a music about the journey. The journey that you're taking in life. But it's all about the message that's in the song.


SHELTON AND THE GOSPEL QUEENS: (Singing) I've been up. And I've been down. Almost living, y'all, to the ground. I try not to do the things I do. Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. I'm waiting on you. I'm waiting on you. Please hear my plea.

WESTERVELT: Now Naomi, you've been singing for a long time. But it really wasn't until recently that you started to make it big and went national. Your first record with The Gospel Queens came out in 2009. And you toured all over the world since then. Is this something you wish, you know, had happened to you when you were in your 20s or 30s that you would sort of gotten big earlier?

SHELTON: Well, you know what, people ask me that all the time. And like I tell them, nothing's going to happen to that season. And it has nothing to do with age. I knew one day, whether I'd be in my 60s, 70s, whatever - one day, God's going to move me up to a spot. And he did. So I just had patience and waiting and kept on doing what I was doing.

WESTERVELT: But do you bring something to a song now that maybe you couldn't have brought to a song as a younger woman?

SHELTON: Yeah because now I have gotten much more mature now. And a lot of things I can relate to better than I did when I was much younger. A lot of things I can see clearly. I can see more than what I did years ago.

WESTERVELT: Any examples from this album?

SHELTON: Songs like, you know, "I'm A Sinner," because this way we all sinned and we have God to forgive us of our sin. And one day we're going to be able to meet our savior.


SHELTON AND THE GOSPEL QUEENS: (Singing) I'm a sinner, yes I am. Sinner. Got to find myself across. In my life. Oh in my life, I've had troubles. And I've had love.

WESTERVELT: I like the song "Humble Me," as well. That's a great tune.

SHELTON: "Humble Me" - from that song I ask God every day because ha, ha I get. Let me stay humble. Let me be able to reap those people, love those people who helped me on the way to get me where I am. I don't ever want to get too high where I pass you by. Keep me humble.

WESTERVELT: Stay grounded. Remember where you come from.

SHELTON: Exactly.


SHELTON: (Singing) Well, I start talking down like I'm hovering above, like I'm made of something better than what you're made of.

WESTERVELT: You said once my occupation is singing but my other occupation is going out in the field, helping others whatever way I can. What'd you mean by that?

SHELTON: You know because there's a lot of time that people come to you. They say, you know, your song really inspired me. And can you just pray for me. And that's what I mean helping people. You just got to be able to reach out other than not get too high that you don't have time to spend with people because there's something people want to talk about. And my whole mission is if I can help somebody along my way, then my living will not be in vain.


SHELTON: (Singing) Don't let me forget, oh Lord, who I am.

WESTERVELT: That's Naomi Shelton. She and The Gospel Queens just released a new album. It's called "Cold World." Ms. Shelton, it was a pleasure speaking with you.

SHELTON: Thank you so much. Thank you all for having me.


SHELTON: (Singing): More than the rest. When I start the morning, ya'll.

WESTERVELT: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt. Follow us on Twitter @nprwatc. I'm @ericnpr. We're back tomorrow. Until then, thanks a lot for listening, and have a great Saturday night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.