Sharon Jones (1956-2016) – posted 11/29/2016
In most respects, 2016 has proven to be a wretched year. I think of the John Oliver video “Fuck you 2016”. In the video some of the famous people who died this year are mentioned. Muhammed Ali, Prince, and David Bowie, among others.
One name that now needs to be added to the list is Sharon Jones. She died tragically on November 18. She was only 60.
As a fan, I am having a hard time accepting Sharon’s death. I always looked forward to her albums. She had a powerful way of singing and the lyrics to her songs connected. It seems way too early for her not to be here. She did not start her musical career with the Dap-Kings until she was 40. She only got her first Grammy nomination for “Give The People What They Want” in 2014.
In the 1980’s she had played in wedding bands. She worked for many years as a corrections guard at Riker’s Island and also as an armored car guard for Wells Fargo. She could never break in. She had been told repeatedly there was no market for soul music.
For those who are not familiar with her music, I would recommend her album “Miss Sharon Jones! O.S.T.” This album includes the music from a new documentary of the same name. Barbara Kopple, who has won two Academy Awards, produced and directed the documentary.
The documentary provides a window into Sharon’s last years. Sharon was battling stage two pancreatic cancer. At the same time, she and the Dap-Kings were having their greatest musical success. They had put out the knockout album “I Learned the Hard Way” in 2010. They were finally getting recognized after twenty years of playing together.
The movie shows a very down-to-earth view of Sharon’s medical battles. Going back to 2013, her eyes had turned yellow and she had been losing weight. She got the pancreatic cancer diagnosis which has to be one of the worst diagnoses someone can get. She fought back, desperately trying to regain her strength. After her surgery, she had six months of chemotherapy. The movie shows Sharon slowly regaining her strength and really struggling.
The band was depending on her and she knew it. Like other poor musicians, the Dap-Kings needed to perform. There was a world tour planned for 2014 and Sharon needed to be well enough to do the tour. The movie showed how everything took her longer to do. Watching the movie, you realize how the lyrics for some of the songs flow right out of Sharon’s life.
Her energy on stage was unsurpassed. That was part of the reason she has often been compared to James Brown. In the movie, she tells a nice story about how she met him in Italy. James said, “God bless you, daughter.” Sharon talked about the inspiration she derived from him.
One of her backup singers described Sharon’s voice as “like a train, you better get out of the way”.
The last song on Miss Sharon Jones!, “I’m Still Here”, is autobiographical.
“All the things I’ve been through just to
sing this song
All the people I’ve seen come and go as
I kept pushin on
I had to work as a prison guard telling
men to do what they were told
‘Cos some record label told me I was too
fat, too short, black and old
I had to direct the choir to let my voice
That was the only place I could sing and
The music on the CD of “Miss Sharon Jones! O.S.T.” includes some of her great songs. I personally like “Tell Me”, “Longer and Stronger”, “100 Days, 100 Nights”, and “Stranger to my Happiness”. I have listened to the album a ridiculous amount and I still enjoy it. Both the movie and the album are well worth it.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Sharon suffered a stroke as she watched the election returns. Gabriel Roth, one of her bandmates, said, in laughing fashion. “She told the people that were there that Trump gave her the stroke.” Roth said Sharon wanted to sing in her last days. The Dap-Kings were with her when she died.
Sharon complained bitterly that the music industry did not honor and recognize soul music. When you think about who wins awards, it is crazy that Sharon did not win a bunch of Grammys.