Born in Decatur, Georgia, singer-songwriter Ryan Shaw began singing in church at age five and later formed a vocal group, Shaw Boys, with his four brothers. Among his early influences were gospel artists Darryl Coley, Keith Brooks, James Moore, and the Pace Sisters.
Shaw briefly attended Georgia State University and successfully auditioned for the gospel musical A Good Man is Hard to Find (Part II). In 1998 he joined the cast of I Know I've Been Changed, written and directed by Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman). Shaw later traveled to New York City with this production and performed to sold-out crowds at the Beacon Theater.
After the closing of I Know I've Been Changed, Shaw joined the resident cast of the Motown Café in Manhattan where he performed Detroit soul favorites by the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye. Later he found another steady gig with a group that played “just about anything from the 1950s and ‘60s that you could dance to—Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, Stax and Motown, Dion and the Belmonts—you name it,” he recalls. “With my church background, a lot of this material was new to me. But when I saw how those songs affected people, I began to understand how their own memories and emotions were invested in the music.”
As Shaw’s exposure to the music of 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s broadened, he became increasingly aware of certain harmonic complexities lacking in music of more recent decades. “I'm into chords, melodies, lyrics, arrangements—I’m into [all aspects of] music,” he says. “It seems like the late 1980s were the last time we really had all these elements in black music with artists like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross. By the 1990s we were down to two chords and a drum loop.”
In 2004 Ryan was recruited into the Fabulous Soul Shakers, a vocal group specializing in classic soul and doo-wop. Johnny Gale, the group’s guitarist, and percussionist Jimmy Bralower were both deeply impressed by Shaw’s talent, inviting him to record a pair of songs, “Do the 45” and “I Found a Love.” Shaw’s collaboration with Bralower and Gale also resulted in dozens of original arrangements and his new song “Nobody,” appearing as the first single on his album, This Is Ryan Shaw. Another track, “We Got Love,” was featured prominently in January 2007 on-air promotions for the ABC television series Brothers and Sisters.