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Merry Clayton: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Merry Clayton's Tiny Desk concert begins with the essentials. After a brief piano intro, she begins to sing "Beautiful Scars" — the title track of her new album — in a powerful and knowing voice. That simple pairing commands attention: "I've been on the battlefield of life. / I've been through it. / But I just had to go through that to get to this." She sings in dialogue with five superb singers, all with serious gospel chops — including members of The Waters and Take 6 — and a band of seasoned pros. "Stand up and be proud of your scars," she sings. The vibe is relaxed, but purposeful.

This performance is an inspiring comeback for Clayton, who has been making great music for almost 60 years. Clayton is one of rock's most important backup singers (for starters, see The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" and Carole King's Tapestry). She recorded several excellent solo albums that never broke big, but eventually received the recognition she deserved in the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. In 2014, she was in a serious car accident that required months in the hospital and extensive rehabilitation. With encouragement from her longtime friend and producer Lou Adler — who's watching this performance off-camera — she decided to record a new album.

All the songs in this Tiny Desk performance testify to the power of faith and friendship. "Oh What a Friend," written by Terry Young, features soaring call-and-response vocals between Clayton and the vocalists. They conclude with a stirring and joyous version of Sam Cooke's 1956 classic "Touch the Hem of His Garment."


  • "Beautiful Scars"
  • "Oh What a Friend"
  • "Touch The Hem Of His Garment"

  • Merry Clayton: vocals
  • Terry Young: piano
  • Charles Fearing: guitar
  • Nathan East: bass
  • Harvey Mason: drums
  • Maxine Waters: vocals
  • Julie Waters: vocals
  • Oren Waters: vocals
  • Alvin Chea: vocals
  • Alfie Siles: vocals

  • Video: Lou Adler, Vincent Adam Paul
  • Audio: Jill Tengan

  • Producer: Lauren Onkey
  • Video Producer: Kara Frame
  • Audio Mastering: Josh Rogosin
  • Associate Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Tiny Production Team: Bob Boilen, Maia Stern, Gabrielle Pierre
  • Executive Producer: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

    Lauren Onkey is the Senior Director of NPR Music in Washington, DC. In this role, she leads NPR Music's team of journalists, critics, video, and podcast makers, and works with NPR's newsroom and robust Member station network to expand the impact of NPR Music and continue positioning public radio as an essential force in music.