Sharon Jones, the musical dynamo who led the soul revival
The bandleader died of cancer at age 60.
More bad music news has arrived with the death of Sharon Jones, the indomitable singer and dynamic live performer who sparked the soul music revival with her Brooklyn band the Dap-Kings.
Jones' publicist, Judy Miller Silverman announced that Jones died Friday at a hospital in Cooperstown, New York "surrounded by her loved ones," including members of her band the Dap-Kings.
Jones, who was 60, had been publicly battling cancer since 2013. The release of Give The People What They Want, a studio album scheduled for release that year, was delayed while she received treatment, but the album came out the following year and she returned to the road.
The powerhouse vocalist's fight with what was initially diagnosed as bile-duct and later pancreatic cancer is detailed in filmmaker Barbara Kopple's documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, which opened in theaters this past summer.
Jones was raised in North Augusta, South Carolina, just across the state line from the Augusta, Georgia hometown of James Brown, who she was often compared to. She didn't gain traction with her music career until she was past 40, spending years working as a prison guard at Rikers Island and a pistol-packing Wells Fargo armored truck driver collecting cash from ATMs around New York. "I won a marksman award, that's how good I was," she told me in 2013.
Meanwhile, she worked as a backup singer and fronted wedding bands. "I wanted to be Aretha, the Supremes, Patti LaBelle. Anybody from Motown to Stax, back in the day."
She got her break when trying out for a back up singer spot with soul artist Lee Fields, impressing band leader Gabriel Roth by singing her parts and those meant for the two other singer who didn't show up for the tryout.
Starting with Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, which launched Roh's Dap-Tone label in 2002, she released six studio albums, including last year's destined-to-be-a-perennial Christmas (and Hanukkah) album It's A Holiday Soul Party!
Hard-touring with the Dap-Kings, the popularity of her no-holds-barred old school R&B, complete-with-horns approach paved the way for the success of soul revival bands of various shapes and sizes bands. You name them, they owe Jones a debt, from her Dap-Tone label mate Charles Bradley to Mayer Hawthorne to Anderson East to The Suffers to St. Paul & the Broken Bones to Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Not to mention Amy Winehouse, who elevated the old soul sound to high art with the aid of the Dap-Kings on her Back To Black album.
The 5 foot tall Jones was an astoundingly energetic presence on stage, a soul shouting life force. When she was still driving a Wells Fargo truck, she got into a car accident and was unable to keep working. "I took it as an omen," she said in 2013. "I was meant to sing." Always making the most of every moment on stage, her performances seemed to grow more joyous in recent years even as she lost her her time grew short.
In lieu of flowers, it was asked that donations be made to The Lustgarten Foundation for pancratic cancer research, Little Kids Rock and the James Brown Family Foundation.
Previously: The songs of Mose Allison Follow In the Mix on Twitter