About Shelley Neill

Shelley Neill was born in the culturally rich but rough and tumble working-class Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey in the early 1950’s, and abandoned by her Irish Catholic mother and Hungarian father at birth. She was adopted, as an infant, into a Jewish family that had grown up and lived in Newark.

photo by Sylvia Stagg-Giuliano

Her most vivid childhood memories were of Newark in the 1950’s - cobblestone streets, people speaking in English, Yiddish, and Italian, horse-drawn vegetable carts, streets with names that sounded strange – Peshein Avenue and Demerest Street – where her grandparents lived - egg kindlers, fresh-killed chickens, Silverman’s Bakery, chocolate egg creams, family circle meetings, and chain-link fenced school playgrounds.

In the late 1950’s, Newark’s neighborhoods began to unravel – politically, socially and economically. Job opportunities shriveled and Jewish and Italian families moved out as African-American families moved in. Neill’s family moved to the suburbs of New Jersey; by the late 1960’s, Newark was in flames. People who had been filled with hope were now filled with fear or anger or both.

Growing up, Neill began and ended each day listening to WNJR Radio, based in Newark. Music had become a huge part of her life and she grew to love the sounds of Dionne Warwick, Martha and the Vandelas, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson.

Later her interest moved to Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin, along with an interest in neo-classical music – Igor Stravinsky and Oliver Messian. Then came the great ladies of Jazz: Ella, Sarah, and Billie introduced to her by Great Aunt Rose – a public school teacher who lived in the Bronx and loved Jazz music, especially the singers. Neill learned to love the music as well, which then grew to loving the way it felt to sing.

Neill moved to Boston in 1969 and had an on and off relationship with music until she returned to singing in the 1980’s and began to play in and around Boston. She traveled outside of the US and she started to research a Jazz and Blues trilogy project. Her first album, The Blues Runs Though It, looked at the impact of Blues on Jazz from a vocalist’s perspective. A second album, Envisioning Blue, and then the third and final album of the series, entree blue, took her on a musical journey that began in 1915 with Robert Johnson and Ma Rainey and ended with Miles Davis in the 1960’s.

After a five-year music hiatus she released Irish Eyes Gypsy Soul, which incorporates many aspects of her musical, emotional, and personal history. She explains, “It’s about how I see and hear the world – through my Irish Eyes, with my Gypsy Soul.” This album brings together her background and wide-ranging interests, including R&B tunes and straight-ahead jazz, with work by Bob Dylan, Abbey Lincoln and Stevie Wonder and many others.