Sharon Jones is not just a soul sister. She is the soul sister of this generation. That’s it. Period. End of story. In fact I dare you to filter through the last 20 years of genuine soul music and find any woman who even comes close to matching the quantity and quality of Jones’ musical output. Then again, that’d just be a waste of your time.
And now the one and only Miss Sharon Jones—“the star of the show with the magnetic je ne sai quoi”—is once again using that very soul to push through a second trying battle with cancer. Indeed, the pancreatic cancer Jones fought and defeated through 2013 and ‘14 has returned, as she just recently announced at the 40th Annual Toronto Film Festival. But if you think for one second that’s going to stop Jones and her long time band the Dap-Kings from doing the boogaloo on their looming West Coast swing, better think again.
“It feels great to get up [onstage] knowing the chemo is in me and still having that energy. I can sing and I feel good and my fans are supporting me,” tells a confident Jones. Afterall, this is the same woman who spent years working as a corrections officer at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex, as well as an armored car guard. She doesn’t take shit from anyone, let alone cancer.
Even with an uphill battle staring her in the face, Jones has a lot to be thankful for, and she knows it. The Dap-Kings, are still the tip-tops of backing groups in contemporary soul. If you’ve ever seen them live, then you know what I’m talking about, and Jones is proud to tell it.
“This weekend past, Binky played [guitar] by himself. We always have two guitars. But Joe [Crispiano] twisted his ankle and couldn’t walk, so Binky just played the show by himself. That’s how tight we are.”
It’s not just live performances, though, that Jones can appreciate. The entire Daptone Records crew, along with The Dap-Kings themselves, is a big family, and that doesn’t go unnoticed in trying times.
“I’m grateful that I have the band to lean on,” says Jones. “I don’t have time to dwell on how I feel. The only thing I can say right now [in regards to how] the chemo is changing me is my hands; it’s really darkening my skin. But other than that I’m OK, and they’re behind me.”
Jones also happens to be a woman of great faith. Born in South Carolina, she was raised a Baptist, then began attending Pentecostal services upon moving to Brooklyn as a teen. And despite her struggles with health in recent years, that lifetime of faith has not wavered—on the contrary, really. When Jones speaks of her faith, it’s easy to derive where she summons the might of soul which overflows nightly onstage.
“I keep my faith because I always believe God is watching,” she says. “He has the doctors; he’s watching over them, he’s watching over everything. I believe he brought me this far—all this work, everything that’s happened to me—I claim that as my blessing. And so my faith hasn’t changed. My faith is gonna take care of me and see me through this, too. And you gotta believe in yourself. You gotta believe that what you pray for is gonna be accepted. I’m gonna continue to go on. No matter what’s up or down, I’m gonna deal with it.”
That same fortitude is what made Jones the subject of two-time Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple’s most recent film, Miss Sharon Jones!, which debuted at that same Toronto Film Festival where Jones announced the return of her cancer. The film itself showcases Jones’ first battle with the disease and her continued touring throughout, and will see its U.S. premiere on Nov. 12, 2015, in New York City. Jones herself was very pleased with the final product.
“Working with them wasn’t a matter of working with them, it was just a matter of them following me around,” explains Jones. “They followed me on and off from June of ‘13 to January of ‘15.
“It’s amazing to take all that footage and bring it down to an hour and a half and tell a story. It turned out great: I cried, I laughed.”
While you’d never guess it watching her shake and shimmy through a 20-song set, Jones will turn 60 next year. But age, as with so many other things, can be a matter of perspective.
“I don’t think about age too much,” she laughs. “I start looking in the mirror, though, and I can see it creepin’ up on me. I think going through the sickness with the chemo the last couple years, that ages you a lot. I can see it put a lot of stress on me; lot of mileage on the body. But hey, 60 is just another [number]. I pray I get to see 65. I wanna reach for that.”
Any fan will second that notion, and add another 20 years atop the wish list. With an 11-song Christmas album set to drop in late-October (It’s a Holiday Soul Party), and another prospective full-length come 2016, a healthy Sharon Jones is righteously poised to add additional layers to her already bountiful discography of LPs and 45s. And one can only imagine that at this point Jones is something of a marvel to her doctors, who can’t have too many other patients that fill the role of soul queen on a nightly basis during pancreatic cancer treatment.
“They just tell me to be careful and go [with] how I feel,” she says. “It’s up to you how you feel mentally. The chemo is going to take over but that’s still a couple months ahead. The gigs gotta be paced out so I don’t overexert, but I’m quite sure everything’s gonna work.”
And with that we begin to wait for the next show, hoping for another and another and another as time goes by. But when you see Sharon at the Mondavi Center, or up at the Cascade in Redding, or anywhere else, remind yourself that this is not the path every person chooses to take when faced with a challenge. This is the path of a true entertainer. A true soul sister. Take note and appreciate. Because it doesn’t happen everyday.
“I have faith,” says Jones. “That’s all I can tell anyone. Those dates are there, and I’m gonna be there.”
You’ll have two chances to see this remarkable lady (and her remarkable backing band) in action in the Sacramento area. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings will rock the Mondavi Center in Davis on Oct. 30, 2015. Tickets start at $27 ($20 for students, $13.50 for under 18) and can be purchased through Mondaviarts.org. If you’re up for a bit of a drive, you could also head up to Redding on Nov. 1, 2015 to catch Sharon Jones at the Cascade Theatre. Go to Cascadetheatre.org for more details.