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About Naomi Shelton:
Naomi Shelton is no ordinary gospel singer. Though she, like many others, grew up singing with her sisters in their Alabama church, she has also spent much of her life in the soul clubs around New York. Her 45s, 41st St. Breakdown, Wind Your Clock and Talking ‘Bout a Good Thing, have long been revered and prized by funk DJs around the globe. With her first official full-length release in 2009, it’s clear that her singing is equally influenced by both facets of her life. This is soul music – informed by the church, perhaps, but soul music nonetheless, relatable to all. Which means that What Have You Done, My Brother?, an uplifting record that conveys Naomi’s energy, her excitement, her love of music, her compassion, is no ordinary album.
This humility, this generosity of spirit, is also on display at her live shows. From her weekly Friday-night gigs at New York’s Fat Cat, where former James-Brown bassist Fred Thomas helps to fill out the Cliff Driver-led ensemble, to special performances at Daptone Revues, great care is taken to make sure everyone in the audience feels connected to the music, and in turn, to Naomi herself.
What Have You Done, My Brother? is an extraordinary album by a woman who sings directly from her soul, whose experience cannot be duplicated, whose authenticity cannot be disputed. It’s an album whose positivity, no matter your beliefs, is immediately felt. An album that exudes a happiness, and a hopefulness, that is necessary now more than ever.
Cliff Driver is the musical director of the group, and leads the band with his inimitable honky-tonk piano style. Jimmy Hill, the organist on the record, leads his own blues and R&B band and has a pedigree rivaling Driver himself, including a stint in the late sixties backing Wilson Pickett. The record also features guitarist Tommy “TNT” Brenneck and Bosco Mann, both of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and each a producer in their own right. Brenneck is also part of The Budos Band, The Menahan Street Band, and heads his own imprint, Dunham Records. His country approach to rhythm-and-blues guitar handily won him a place at the table with Driver, who often features Tommy’s twangy guitar figures in his arrangements. The drums on the record were played by Brian Floody, a fixture on the bluesier end of the New York jazz scene who beats an indispensable if understated pulse.
The Gospel Queens are made up of Bobbie Gant, Cynthia Langston, and Edna Johnson. Bobbie, who sings alto, was born and raised in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and started her singing career at her church’s junior choir. After going to school in Nashville, she moved to New York, where she began singing with a few different groups, including with Helen Ferguson and the Personalities, who opened for Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ray Fox, among others. It was in 2000 that Bobbie was first introduced to Cliff, who was playing organ at her church, Brown Memorial Baptist, and asked her to join the Gospel Queens soon after, claiming that he knew she could sing because of the “way she talked.” Soprano Cynthia, the youngest of the Queens, grew up singing in Brooklyn’s Spring Hill Baptist Church, where she met Cliff, who played the piano there, as well. After touring with the Off-Broadway gospel production of The Devil Used My Children – for which Cliff was the musical director – as a young teenager, singing with various gospel groups, and living in various places around the country, Cynthia resettled in Brooklyn, where she formed the a group called the Gospel Samaritans before joining the Gospel Queens in 2006. Tenor Edna Johnson was 9 years old when she began singing at her church at school in her hometown of Clairton, Pennsylvania. When she was 15, her mother enrolled her in music school in Pittsburgh. At 18, she moved to New York, where she sang in an R&B group called The Charlettes. Edna met Cliff in 1998 at Greater Crossroads, where she sang and Cliff played the organ, and joined up with the Gospel Queens the following year. Sharon Jones, Judy Bennett, Jamie Kozyra, and Tamika Jones contributed additional background vocals on the record.