How many people can say they performed in front of Mick Jagger while wearing hair rollers and one month later had a hit song? Merry Clayton is decidedly the only siren with those bragging rights, and while her vocals on the Rolling Stones classic “Gimme Shelter” are probably her most recognizable recording, I think the most notable thing about her is that she’s lent her voice to hundreds of famous tracks in which it actually goes unrecognized. Merry Clayton has had a five-decade career performing backup vocals for all of the greats, even churning out Grammy winners with the likes of Carole King. Despite the fact that she never got the solo career she would have wanted (not to mention that her gospel-trained pipes certainly would have warranted), she kept on going, kept on singing, and kept on making iconic music. In this way, I think she is an awe-inspiring example of perseverance. She did what she loved and found a way to make a living at it no matter what — no matter what roadblocks or disappointments life threw her way.
Psst: You can see some amazing interviews with Merry and other inspiring backup singers in the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom.” Have you seen it? It’s definitely one of my favorite documentaries ever.