R.I.P. Sharon Jones, the Dap-Kings' ferocious frontwoman who left our souls fulfilled
Sharon Jones held on as long as she could.
She held on to her dreams, parlaying a gospel upbringing and some meager ‘70s funk and soul success into a career that didn’t blossom until she turned 40, in the process working day jobs at places like Rikers Island.
She held on to every fiery note she sang with her band, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, as their feverish live shows made them hip festival favorites, slinging a sound the world came to call retro soul.
And she held on after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, pressing ahead and releasing new music and performing as often, and as passionately, as she could.
It was not enough: Jones died Friday after a long battle with that cancer, the band announced on its website. She was 60. But in holding on as long as she did, she gave all of her fans just a little more time in her white-hot spotlight.
She’ll be remembered as one of retro soul’s most beloved figures, right in line with Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson, Mayer Hawthorne and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Like Winehouse, she was charismatic, respected and her story inspirational enough to earn a documentary about her life, Miss Sharon Jones!, directed by two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple.
Born along the Georgia-South Carolina border and raised in New York City, Jones was never the driving force behind the Dap-Kings’ compositions. But with her anything-goes personality and fully committed stage presence, she was definitely the driving force behind its soul.
“I’m the bandleader, so I tend to throw the cues,” the Dap-Kings’ Gabriel Roth told the Times in 2011, “but that said, it’s Sharon’s show. I’m following her. I’m watching her like a hawk the whole show.”
How could you not? After Roth plucked Jones from semi-obscurity for a few recording sessions in the late ‘90s, he built a whole band around her, the idea being that no one should ever look away from her talent.
The group built a following with 2002’s Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and 2005’s Naturally, but it was 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights that really put the Dap-Kings on the map. Like Winehouse and Ronson, they became a go-to reference and comparison for any soul act with a staunch devotion to analog recording, vintage vinyl, sharp suits and live chops that just wouldn’t quit. Their 2014 album Give The People What They Want was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Album.
Jones toured, recorded or performed with an amazingly eclectic group of artists in her final decade – Lou Reed, David Byrne, Iggy Pop, John Legend, Michael Buble, Booker T. Jones, Phish and many more. In true retro-soul fashion, she left future crate-diggers with a sprawling catalog of more obscure work to seek out (I’ll get you started with Greyboy’s fantastically funky Got to Be a Love).
Through it all, she toured as relentlessly as possible, even after her cancer diagnosis forced her to break from the road for a bit. This year alone, the Dap-Kings headlined the Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival and opened for Daryl Hall and John Oates at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. In the final months of her left, Jones gave the people of Tampa Bay what they wanted, and left them wanting even more.
She held on as long as she could. And in so doing, she left us all enough soul to last a lifetime.
-- Jay Cridlin