Sharon Jones Carved Her Own Niche In Contemporary Music



sharonjonesI was saddened to hear about the passing of Sharon Jones over the weekend. The powerhouse voice fronting The Dap-Kings was an incredibly dynamic performer, but beyond that, her personal story is a lasting lesson in perseverance and tenacity. I’d say her spirit of joyful defiance cut to the heart of what Rock & Roll is all about.

What is amazing about the career of Sharon Jones is the fact her breakthrough hit didn’t happen until she was 46 years old in 2002. Ever since the early 1970s she had been banging on the door, singing in backup sessions, wedding bands and church choirs, without much to show for it.

In order to make ends meet, she worked as a prison guard at Rikers Island in New York, and then as an armed security guard for Wells Fargo. On one occasion she attended a recording session still wearing her Wells Fargo uniform, including her gun. But as she revealed in the inspiring 2015 documentary Miss Sharon Jones, the record labels kept telling her that she was “’too fat, too black, too short and too old” to get signed.

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But in 1996 Jones was discovered by Gabriel Roth, a founder of the Brooklyn-based Daptone Records, and the leader and bass player (under the pseudonym Bosco Mann) of the Dap-Kings, a funk/R&B ensemble. Roth himself is a brilliant arranger and one of the best bass players on the planet, and together with Jones spent a couple of years fine tuning their act.

Their 2002 album Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings turned out to be the leading edge of a new soul revival. The Dap-Kings were called by producer Mark Ronson to perform on the Amy Winehouse album Back to Black, and with Sharon Jones they began to play bigger venues as more people heard their records. Five albums would follow, including 2015’s Give The People What They Want, which came out after Jones bravely returned to performing after treatment for stage 2 pancreatic cancer.

Although Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings drew on some early soul influences, they were in no way a tribute act. As a singer, Sharon Jones was unlike any other. There was a muscularity and an energy to her act that was more like James Brown than Aretha Franklin. And on top of that, her songs co-written with Bosco Mann allowed her to express her own thoughts, mostly about love and love lost, loudly and proudly.

This was a band that carved its own unique niche into the musical firmament mostly because of Sharon Jones. Watch her performance with Prince, or watch her cover of the Allman Brothers “Midnight Rider” and try to tell me she doesn’t fit under Rock’s Big Tent.  Sharon Jones was a great artist and a true survivor, and she will be missed.

Photo credit: By kallerna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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