by Shae Kahlo
After a terrific dinner date with a gal friend of mine, I was crushed to read on my phone that Sharon Jones, best known as the lead singer of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings had passed away. I was in disbelief. I quickly read further to learn that she had died from pancreatic cancer. I didn’t even know, or remember, that she was suffering from the disease.
Jones was highly respected in music but oddly underrated to the mainstream. I first heard about her roughly around 2006 and 2007. Around this time, she and the Dap-Kings gained recognition from their albums Naturally and 100 Days, 100 Nights. As these were the gaudy times of the Black Eyed Peas and The Pussycat Dolls, Jones and the Dap-Kings stood out for their ripened, majestic mix of soul and funk. And who could deny Jones’ vocals that were so solid in confidence but tender in wanting to not only heard but understood? She was certainly a great successor to James Brown, one of her biggest influences.
The first song I fell in love with from Jones and the Dap-Kings was “How Long Do I Have To Wait For You”, a pleasantly disguised plea from a woman beyond annoyed that this man in her life is acting aloof at the prospect of a relationship together. Jones was fabulous in expressing both sides of the arguments on her end. If he man’ed up about it; then let’s do it. If he didn’t, she would have to go, even though she really didn’t want to. It’s so damn good.
I had the pleasure of seeing Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings at Lollapalooza in 2008. I begged my mother to help me get to Chicago where the annual three-day music jamboree is always held, at Grant Park. I was determined to go because Rage Against the Machine was set to headline on Saturday, August 2 and I had to be there. The quartet had a hiatus following the release of 1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles and the 2000 cover album Renegades. Their appearance was billed as a reunion for the fans. A return to fighting the power.
Thankfully, I made it to Chicago (I honestly had already bought my $75-$79 day pass, so I think my mom kind of thought: “Shit. I guess we gotta go.”) Leading up to Rage, the rest of the day’s performers (that I saw) included MGMT, Uffie, Lupe Fiasco, Does It Offend You, Yeah? and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. I remember being stoked that were there that Saturday. I really enjoyed their set. As I was already hyper for the night ahead, the calm before the mosh pit was fantastic from the Dap-Kings. Looking back, the audience felt the same.
Jones was only 60 years old when she passed away this past Friday, November 18. Born in 1956 in Augusta, Georgia, she was raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her music career began very grassroots, consisting of local talent shows, opportunities to sing back-up, at weddings, gospel choirs, and various line-ups of bands. While working as a corrections officer and as a guard at a Wells Fargo bank to pay the bills, it wasn’t until she was 40 years old, in 1996, that she released her first song as a frontwoman with “Damn It’s Hot.” Supported by later and current Dap Kings bandleader Gabriel Roth, that track lead to twenty years of Sharon Jones queenin’ any and every stage with her rhapsodic presence. She also often dressed in what looked like a tribute to the women artists of the 1960s with flirty, shimmer fringe dresses that Tina Turner and The Supremes wore too. Jones was a little girl when they ruled the radio.
In 2013, she disclosed being diagnosed with cancer. But the news was so hush-hush, and her resilience to fight it was so passionate, I forgot she was enduring it day by day. That same year, the documentary on her life Miss Sharon Jones! was released. In 2014, she and the Dap-Kings earned their first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album.
“I have cancer. Cancer don’t have me.” –Sharon Jones
Following the news of her death, fans online shared that many of them had just seen her and the Dap-Kings perform this year at music festivals and concerts. What is now one of their last appearances with Jones, the group together filmed a musical cameo for the Netflix series and adaptation of Marvel’s Luke Cage. (Jones also had a small role in the movie The Great Debators in 2007).
“The Day The Music Died” occurred on February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson died in a plane crash in Iowa. 2016 is looking to be The Year The Music Died. So many icons, legends, and talent in music, art, and entertainment were called home. From day one, January 1, Natalie Cole died. Days later, David Bowie. In April, another blow came when Prince was found dead in his Minneapolis compound Paisley Park. The list was long this year. Most recently, Pete Burns of Dead or Alive, who found fame in the ’80s, died of cardiac arrest.
Sharon Jones was an enormous talent who found success in her adult life. As I wrote this tribute piece to her, I played the entire Naturally album and then “How Long” on repeat. The track still puts a smile on my face. It’s jubilant and feisty. What a loss that Jones is physically gone now. But her music remains as it always does with a talent and voice like hers and the Dap-Kings.
Rest in music.
Below is a clip of the Dap-Kings performing in Paris. And Prince made a surprise cameo, giving the audience a guitar solo.