Sharon Fafaye Jones,born in August Georgia,has passed away at the age of 60. This after struggling with pancreatic cancer for four years. She died with family and her band The Dap Kings with her. This was such a moving event for me,this 2016’s seemingly endless parade of dying music icons,for a couple reasons. First and foremost,she was a throaty and big voiced soul singer-full of that Tina Turner type of performance fire,that was operating with a live band in the rather anti black band 21st century with the fine funk/soul band The Dap Kings.
The second reason this event has moved me is more personal. My paternal grandfather passed away of the exact same type of cancer on my 21st birthday. It was barely five months ago that I saw Sharon & The Dap Kings perform live in my hometown of Bangor,Maine. They were the second warm up act for Hall & Oates at the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion. There’s a vivid memory of Jones,dressed in gold and yellow as you see in the photo above that I took there,running ultra fast in place shouting in fine soul preacher style “I’VE GOT CANCER,CANCER DOESN’T HAVE ME!!!”.
Sharon Jones lived the life of a soul survivor if there is indeed such a thing. She moved from her hometown due to spousal abuse from her father to her mom,wound up in Brooklyn and went from the church to the clubs singing with a number of funk bands in 70’s. For years she struggled to gain notoriety,with one producer referring to her as “too short and too black” during the 90’s. She then became a guard at Riker’s Island prison for a time,where she adopted her tough stage persona. After getting her first official gig as a leader,she soon recorded her first album with the Dap Kings before the decade was out.
My friend and blogging consultant Henrique were just talking as this was being written on Facebook about what made Sharon Jones so important. Both of us agreed that her musical importance comes out of a stronger appreciation for strong,well produced live funk/soul in the 2010’s. And that after her years of struggling in the prime of her life,that period allowed her to break through in a huge way during middle age. And that’s a legacy that is too important to ignore in a time when,on the pop music front,vocalists are still far more publicized than musicians and bands.
Jones was a vocalist of course. But she never let her eyes off the fact that her big voice was part of a band with guitars,basses,drums and a horn section. And that represents the funkiest attitude of the vocalist. Even today,there are probably plenty of young brothers and sisters being told by reality TV minded producers they are “too black”,”too short” or even “too ugly” to be popular. But since Sharon Jones has been such a huge presence in the last couple of decades,her strongest legacy might be that the newer generation won’t have to endure the hardships she did.
Sharon Jones,I thank you for your service to music. And you will be missed by all of us funky people!
If you are able,please give what little you can to the Conquer Cancer Foundation in honor of Miss Sharon Jones!