Busta’s Person of the Week: Music icon Prince called Shelby Johnson ‘The Bald Beauty with a Powerhouse Voice’

Busta’s Person of the Week: Music icon Prince called Shelby Johnson ‘The Bald Beauty with a Powerhouse Voice’
September 09
14:17 2020

By Busta Brown

Music icon Prince calls her the “Bald Beauty with a Powerhouse Voice” and she loves it. 

“It makes me feel very empowered and proud, especially as a Black woman, with my baldness as my crown. I didn’t tell Prince I was cutting all of my hair off, so when I showed up for rehearsal at Paisley, I didn’t know if he was going to say, ‘Go home, or put on a wig.’ He walked around with that look like he was inspecting me and just stared. Then he smiled and said, ‘I see you.’ Along with my hair, I got rid of everything that was distracting and Prince said, ‘Now I just see you.’ He said, ‘I really see you.’ I feel my trustiest self being bald,” said Shelby Johnson with a huge smile. 

Prince is 100% correct. Shelby J’s voice and beauty are absolutely stunning. When she smiles, everything and everyone in her presence are brighter. So, how did this Greensboro native meet His Royal Badness? It all went down in 2006 in Las Vegas, during a sound check with the legendary Larry Graham. Shelby brought the house down while singing Stevie Wonder’s 1973 classic “Higher ground.” “It was God and his perfect timing putting me where I was supposed to be. I had sung for D’Angelo, Anthony Hamilton, Mary J. Blige, Carlos Santana, jazz legend Roy Hargrove and others. So, during my two weeks break from touring with Anthony Hamilton, I was blessed with the opportunity to sing background for Larry Graham.” 

To Shelby’s surprise, her performance with Graham was at Prince’s 3121 Club in Las Vegas. Prince was doing a residency there at The Rio. A residency is a series of concerts, similar to a concert tour, but only performed at one location. Shelby J had Graham and his band members mesmerized, unaware that Prince was watching her every move. “The sound guy said, ‘Sing it again.’ So, I sang again. Then he asked me to sing it again. Little did I know that the voice that asked me to sing over and over again was Prince. He came from the back and he looked good. He was so clean, he was sparkling!

While Shelby was talking, I was in a straight up daze. I was imagining that moment when Prince walked from the back and the expression on her face. That had to be a ‘Thank you, God’ moment. “It was amazing! He looked at me with that Prince smile and said, ‘You are a great singer.’ And it was like he floated away. I just stood there like, and said what just happened,” she said while still in amazement. 

The night of her show with Larry Graham, Prince joined Shelby on stage while she was blowing the audience away performing Ann Pebbles’ 1974 classic, “I Can’t Stand The Rain.”  The moment was pure magic and unforgettable for both singers. “He walks up right to my microphone, the one I was singing on, and we were cheek to cheek. And he started harmonizing with me. And I was like, did I have a Tic Tac, all kinds of thoughts were going through my head,” said Johnson. 

I’ll assume her breath was fine, because two days after Christmas in 2006, while shopping with her sister Lyn at Walmart, her phone rang. It was Larry Graham. “He said, ‘Listen, you’re going to get a call from a number that looks crazy, but answer it.’ The call came and I answered it. It was Prince’s team saying he wanted me to sing with him at a New Year’s Eve concert. They sent me some songs that he wanted me to sing with him onstage. And I’m walking through Walmart with my sister, speechless,” said an excited Shelby J. 

I’ve seen Shelby’s performance, so I know what Prince felt after his experience watching her in Vegas. He was equally in awe, because to hear the Bald Beauty sing is heavenly. Her voice is a mixture of Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Roberta Flack. Shelby J is not just one of my favorite North Carolina singers and performers, she’s one of the best in the world. So, it’s no surprise that when Prince asked her to join his band, the journey and true friendship lasted over a decade. Shelby J is one of the kindest, sweetest, genuine, intelligent and absolutely hilarious people I know. She’s the complete package. 

The bond between Shelby and Prince grew quickly and they became the best of friends. He spotlighted Shelby during his historic 2007 Super Bowl halftime performance. She became the face and voice of his New Power Generation band. As a background singer and band member, her presence and performance commanded attention and unselfishly dominated the stage. You could hear that powerhouse voice coming through the speakers, sometimes like a thunderous instrument and at other times a quiet storm. 

As a breast cancer survivor, she believes in promoting early detection and prevention by advocating for organizations like She wooed the audience during halftime at Novant Health’s and Charlotte Hornets’ Breast Cancer Awareness Night at the Spectrum Arena in 2019. She lends her voice to United Way of Greater Greensboro and Culture Pushers to bring awareness to homelessness in the Triad, and is a strong advocate for autism. Shelby J is a powerhouse on and off the stage. 

She’s a phenomenal sister and daughter, and newly entrepreneur. Her company is called Crochet by Shelby J. She crochets personalized blankets. One her biggest and most loyal clients was Prince. “He loved my blankets. When you visit his Paisley Park mansion in Minneapolis, the blanket is on the couch in one of the same spots that I last saw him,” she said softly. You could feel it in her voice that she truly loved Prince beyond his fame and fortune. 

I asked, what would Prince want us to know that the media never shares?  “He cares about people. All people. He was an advocate for education as well, and he had a heart to heal the Black communities. Prince donated lots of money and time to fight racism, injustice, poverty, homelessness, and to build better schools for Black youth. He always reminded me of the power we have inside of us, that we come from kings and queens, and gave me books to read and movies to watch so I could educate myself more about our history. He was extremely intelligent.” 

I asked about the last time she saw Prince. Shelby took a very deep breath, doing her best to hold back the tears. It took her a few minutes, and of course I waited patiently. She exhaled, “Man!” Then shook her head as she gathered her composure. “In was 2006. He was rehearsing for his intimate show, Piano and a Microphone, at Paisley Park. Afterwards, he said, I want to show you something. We watched the documentary ‘Muscle Shoals, Alabama’ on Netflix. It’s a town where a lot of great music came out ofWe were lying on the floor with a zillion pillows, like sister and brother. He would pause it and then share wisdom about connecting to your roots as an entertainer. He loved educating everyone around him. He said, ‘Shelby, you’re from North Carolina, and there’s something in the water there. And when you connect with that, that’s when you’re going to get the truest Shelby.’ He showed me a part in the documentary when Aretha Franklin visited Muscle Shoals, and that’s when she found her voice and her sound. 

“Prince was an amazing teacher. He gave me advice about my love life as well. At that time I was going through something personal. He always asked about my family as well, and I’m so grateful that he cared for and about me. The next day it snowed and I ran outside to make a snow angel and he was in the window cracking up. He said, ‘Don’t ever lose that childlike joy.’ Later that day as I was leaving, he told me that he loved me and gave me a few priceless gifts that very few people have. Then he gave me a hug, and that was the last time I saw him,” she said. 

Then I asked about the moment she heard he had passed. Her heart was extremely heavy. I wanted to reach through my Zoom to give her a big hug. That speaks volumes about her character. Shelby remains very close to Prince’s family. 

Shelby’s parents, Ernest and Mamie Johnson, laid the foundation of strength and faith. “My mom and dad are so special to me because they always taught that where I go, I’m going to take myself with me. So like who you are, be a good person, and keep God first. That way you’ll always walk with a kind heart and spirit. I tell other artists that it’s not just about music. We need to use our platform and finances to help other people and move the ball further down the field for what’s right. And there’s something good to come out of COVID, because we’re seeing people getting back to the simplicity of helping each other, understanding we need food, love, compassion. COVID got us back to one,” she said. 

Shelby J is definitely a superstar in her own right, both in and out of the recording studio. She teamed up with Anthony Hamilton to record the number one R&B hit “North Carolina” and wrote and performed the song “How I Know” on Roy Hargrove ‘s jazz classic and Grammy nominated CD “The RH Factor.” In 2021, she’ll release a concert film DVD, “Shelby J, One Night at the Capri,” filmed in 2019 to honor Prince. Also, in 2021 look out for her highly anticipated sophomore album. 

For more info and to contact my phenomenal Person of the Week, she’s easy to find @therealshelbyJ on all social media platforms and you can find her music on all streaming platforms. Happy Birthday Shelby J! 

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