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Merry Clayton's inspiring gift to the world

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The gospel, rock and soul singer, renowned as a backup artist for some of the world's leading musical acts, got some long-overdue public awareness from the 2013 documentary "20 Feet From Stardom." Now, years after losing both legs in a car accident, Merry Clayton has made a triumphant return to the recording studio for her new album, "Beautiful Scars." Correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

Video Transcript

- Merry Clayton is a singer whose work was honored in an Oscar winning film a few years back. These days she's singing songs of faith and personal resilience and for good reason, as we hear from Lee Cowan.

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) Salvation, salvation is yours for the asking, Oh my Lord ask me--

LEE COWAN: How do you describe your voice?

MERRY CLAYTON: Angelic.

[LAUGHTER]

LEE COWAN: That it is.

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) Yeah, it's yours--

It's my gift, it's my gift.

LEE COWAN: Merry Clayton, she's been offering that gift for well over half a century.

- (SINGING) Now, who can I count on?

LEE COWAN: She started at 14, singing with Bobby Darin.

- (SINGING) What do you say-- Hit the road, Jack--

LEE COWAN: Ray Charles made of a Raylet--

- (SINGING) No more, no more, no more, hit the road, Jack, and don't you come--

LEE COWAN: --and soon artists everywhere wanted Merry Clayton's spirit behind them too.

- (SINGING) --kept on saying--

LEE COWAN: Like Carole King--

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) Oh no not my baby--

LEE COWAN: Joe Cocker, even the Rolling Stones.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Merry's his father, a minister in the New Orleans church where Merry started singing, couldn't have been more proud-- or more confused.

MERRY CLAYTON: He says, well just know this one thing, I know you're out there with those rolling cockers--

[LAUGHTER]

--he got Joe Cocker and the Rolling Stones all mixed up. He said, I told the church, he said, we gonna be praying for you.

[LAUGHTER]

(SINGING) Yes, I'm a sea--

LEE COWAN: She was revered within the industry--

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) Well I am a sister who can sing--

LEE COWAN: But it really wasn't until 2013 when Merry finally got the recognition she deserved outside it.

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) Nobody's fault but mine--

LEE COWAN: She was one of the stars of "Twenty Feet from Stardom," the documentary about the lives of background vocalists.

MERRY CLAYTON: Just say, diva, right here is where we want it.

LEE COWAN: That film took home both an Oscar and a Grammy.

MERRY CLAYTON: Plus we won the Oscar, it was a heavenly thing. We were talking about doing a little touring and everybody was really happy and up.

LEE COWAN: Until?

MERRY CLAYTON: Until I went out for a meeting, and I came home five months later.

LEE COWAN: That same year Merry Clayton got into a car accident and all she really remembers is one of the paramedics who had rushed to the scene.

MERRY CLAYTON: He says, oh Miss Clayton, we just saw you in that movie, "Twenty Feet from Stardom ," oh we just loved it. He says, now I'm going to give you something, you're in shock, but I'm going to give you something to knock you out.

LEE COWAN: When she finally woke up, her doctor had some news.

MERRY CLAYTON: He said, you know, we wanted to tell you, we had to make some serious decisions when they bought you in, in order to save your life. So I said, OK, what were the decisions? He said, in order to save your life we had to amputate both legs from the knee down. I said, did anything happen to my voice?

LEE COWAN: That was your first question?

MERRY CLAYTON: And when he told me that nothing happened to my voice. I wanted the world to know that nothing happened to my voice, so I just started singing.

LEE COWAN: And how did that song go?

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) I've loved good and I've loved hard, better days I never see and though I've been hurt some time, I can still shine. I can still shine.

You know, that's what I was singing. Of course, I lost two limbs but what I got in return-- what I got.

(SINGING) She said if I could just touch the hem of His garment I know I will be made whole, she kept on crying, Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord--

LEE COWAN: I think a lot of people, after an experience like you've been through, would think that something was taken away from them, not given them, and there would be a bitterness and a shouting to the heavens of why did you do this to me.

MERRY CLAYTON: I was raised to be grateful with anything that you had. For me, to be given my life back-- I could have been gone in that accident. I just believe that I was able to be here and God gave me the grace to be here, because my purpose wasn't finished, my destiny was not finished.

LOU ADLER: We're going to try it once with you having--

LEE COWAN: Her longtime friend, legendary music producer Lou Adler, was by her side the whole time. He seemed to realize right after the accident that you needed to get back to singing, didn't he?

MERRY CLAYTON: He did.

LEE COWAN: And he was pushing you to do so, right?

MERRY CLAYTON: He was adamant. You know, you should be singing-- and I'm saying, is he serious? Does he know what I've just gone through?

LEE COWAN: She threw herself into her physical therapy, strengthening her core was more important now than ever, still is. But finally, five years after the accident, Merry Clayton made a triumphant return to the studio.

[CHEERING, EXCITED SCREAMING, APPLAUSE]

Was there ever a moment though, in the midst, of it that you wanted to give up. That you didn't want to come through it?

MERRY CLAYTON: Please-- give up? There's no such thing as give up in my vocabulary. You don't give up, you fight until you can't fight anymore.

(SINGING) I've been on the battlefield of life, I've been through it--

LEE COWAN: The title track of her new album, "Beautiful Scars," was written by legendary composer Diane Warren.

MERRY CLAYTON: Every hurt I've endured, every cut--

(SINGING) --every cut, every bruise, wear it proud like a badge--

--wear it proud like a badge, I wear it like a tattoo. And that touched my spirit because it's the truth.

(SINGING) These are beautiful scars that I have on my heart--

My scars are not ugly, my scars are beautiful, because I went through it. It's how you go through whatever you've gone through.

LEE COWAN: How are you different after the accident? What do you think has changed, if anything, about you as a person?

MERRY CLAYTON: I have a different spirit about myself, I have a spirit of knowing that it'll work out-- whatever it is-- it'll work out. It'll be OK.

(SINGING) Now I have lots of friends, my loved ones and kin--

LEE COWAN: Just talking with Merry Clayton is inspirational, It's like going to church--

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) But when I'm in despair, I can--

LEE COWAN: --but hearing her seeing that life experience, that's like going to heaven.

MERRY CLAYTON: (SINGING) Sitting around with my head [INAUDIBLE], I stand on your word, I feel joy--

I'm hoping whoever hears my voice will get some peace and some love and some joy. And be able to say, you know what, if Miss Merry can go through what she went through with gladness and with dignity and with a little bit of joy in her heart, if she can make it through, I better get my stuff together and try to make it through too.

(SINGING) You're always right there for me. Thank you and good night.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]