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." 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.
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. 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. 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.
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 to 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 curls” and did the verse in a few takes, which Jagger remarks is “pretty amazing.” The Stones had asked Bonnie Bramlett to sing on the song, but Bramlett's husband, Delaney, refused to let her perform with the Stones. Clayton also sang backing vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama"
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, 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 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. 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.
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 "Translation".
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.
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