Shelley Neill was born in the culturally rich rough and tumble Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey in the 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. She considers herself “a child of Newark.”
Her most vivid childhood memories 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, chain-link fenced school playgrounds.
In the late 1960’s Newark’s neighborhoods unraveled - Jewish and Italian families moved out - and African-American families moved in. Her family moved to the suburbs of New Jersey. By the late 1960’s Newark was on fire and people who had been filled with hope were now filled with either fear or anger or both.
Music was always a huge part of her life. She began and ended each day listening to WNJR Radio out of Newark, and grew to love the sounds of Dionne Warwick, Martha and the Vandelas, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson.
Later it was 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, followed by the great ladies of Jazz: Ella, Sarah, and Billie - introduced to her by Great Aunt Rose, who lived in the Bronx, was a public school teacher, and loved Jazz music, singers in particular. She also learned to love the music and later the way it felt when she sang a song.