RIP: Sharon Jones

Posted November 19, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Funk-soul singer, leader of the Dap-Kings, dies at the age of 60

sharonjones-picGrammy-nominated soul singer Sharon Jones, 60, died on Friday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was surrounded by loved ones, family, friends and members of the Dap-Kings, her backing band.

Jones rose to the top as the commanding front lady for the Dap-Kings, a scorching powerhouse band comfortable with nostalgic soul and Southern-baked funk. Jones’ voice, seasoned with vintage Tina Turner razzmatazz and the gusto of James Brown, proved to be the perfect instrument to rocket their old-school formula and all-new material to the masses. Although distributed through the small NY label of Daptone Records, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings became music festival circuit favorites, and won many hearts worldwide. Prince became a huge fan of theirs, allowing them to open for the Purple One on many tour dates in 2015 and early this year before his unfortunate passing.


Born in Augusta, Georgia, hometown of the legendary James Brown, Jones grew up singing in church and became a custom backing vocalist on many soul, R&B and disco records, many of them going uncredited. Jones finally put full-time music on the back burner after moving to Brooklyn to become a corrections officer at New York’s Rikers Island. Rediscovered at the age of 40, Jones returned to recording in 1996 on Desco Records, putting out several sides reimagining classic funk-soul with the band Soul Providers. It wouldn’t be until 2002 when Jones would finally put out her first full-length LP, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. She reunited with producer Bosco Mann and released  a follow-up, Naturally, in 2005. 100 Days, 100 Nights appeared two years later. The title track to that album has been featured in television commercials for Fitbit and ended up being one of the band’s revered tunes, along with the Motown-esque “Tell Me.” 2010’s I Learned the Hard Way pushed Jones further into newer territory as a string of concept videos showing off her untapped acting skills appeared (“Game Gets Old,” “If You Call”).

2014 saw the release of Give the People What They Want, an album that won critical acclaim, earning a “wisely recommended” review from and appearing on their list of Best Albums of 2015. It was around this time that Jones announced she was battling with cancer — initially in the bile ducts, and later stage two pancreatic cancer — but she continued to perform when she could, often appearing bald due to rounds of chemotherapy. Miss Sharon Jones!, a documentary directed by film maker Barbara Kopple, appeared the following year and landed on a list of film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival where she was in attendance for the screening. A companion compilation was released, along with a spectacular holiday album, It’s a Soul Holiday Party. HiFi called the holiday project “one that sounds like it sweated out the vault of Stax” and giving it an astounding 4.5/5 approval rating.

Jones’ Dap-Kings was also an integral part of the soul revival sound of the early 2000s, appearing on Amy Winehouse’s groundbreaking Grammy-winning Back to Black album and other Mark Ronson-produced projects.

In October, Jones and the Dap-Kings were scheduled to perform for President Obama at the White House for a South by South Lawn conference on the White House’s South Lawn, but pneumonia struck the ailing singer, causing her to miss the date. The band still performed, with Binky Griptite and Saun & Starr performing in her place.

After announcing that she was cancer free in 2014, Jones’s bout with cancer was far from over, ultimately claiming the star’s life. In lieu of flowers, people are being encouraged to donate monies to the following organizations in her memory:

Cure Pancreatic Cancer – The Lustgarten Foundation

James Brown Family Foundation

Little Kids Rock


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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