Sharon Jones; Soul & Funk Singer Dies At 60

One of the most celebrated Black soul and funk female singer, Sharon Jones passed away on Friday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sharon Jones, an iconic Grammy-nominated soul and funk singer who rose to fame relatively late in life, died on Friday of pancreatic cancer, the Daily News stated. She was 60.

Jones, known for her high-spirited live shows, passed away at a hospital in upstate Cooperstown, surrounded by her bandmates, according to a representative.

“We are deeply saddened to announce that Sharon Jones has passed away after a heroic battle against pancreatic cancer,” a statement on the singer’s website said. “She was surrounded by her loved ones, including the Dap-Kings.”

Sharon Lafaye Jones was born on May 4, 1956, in Augusta, Ga., though her family lived just across the border in North Augusta, S.C. In “Miss Sharon Jones!” the singer recalled that her mother had needed a cesarean section, but because of segregation in the Jim Crow south, she was not allowed in the hospital’s main unit and was instead relegated to a storage room, New York Times reports.

After her parents separated, Sharon Jones, the youngest of six children, moved with her mother to New York and was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. “But New York in 1960, no peace to be found,” she sang on “I’m Still Here.” “Segregation, drugs and violence was all around.”

She went on to attend Brooklyn College and acted in “Sister Salvation,” an Off-Broadway play, before turning her focus to music.

Doctors diagnosed Sharon Jones with stage two pancreatic cancer in 2013 and removed the singer’s gallbladder, the head of her pancreas and 18 inches of her small intestine, according to the Rolling Stone. She went into remission nine months later, but announced that the cancer had returned at the premiere of Miss Sharon Jones!, a documentary detailing Jones’ life and career. The cancer would be elevated to stage four, with tumors spreading to her lung, liver and lymph nodes.

Jones recorded six albums with the Dap-Kings, but it was her exhilarating live shows, which functioned as equal parts Baptist church revival, Saturday night juke joint and raucous 1970s Las Vegas revue, that showcased the singer’s unparalleled energy. In venues filled with people half her age, Jones was the most dynamic person in the room, bolting onstage and commanding the crowd like her idol James Brown. It was homage without mimicry; respecting the soul and funk elders that defined the genres while displaying seemingly boundless vitality. Jones’ power was the ability to straddle the line between thankful humility, born out of late-in-life success, and boastful performer.

“I’m not trying to ride anybody’s coattails,” the singer said in 2008. “I’m just doing my thing and people are coming to us.”

Jones started numerous funk groups in the 1970s, earning extra money by performing in wedding bands and singing gospel music. But for decades, she had trouble breaking in to the industry.

“I wasn’t what they was looking for,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “They just looked at me and they didn’t like what they saw: a short, black woman.” As documented in Miss Sharon Jones!, a record producer told the singer in the 1990s that she was “too fat, too black, too short and too old.” “I looked at myself and saw ugliness,” she said in the film.

She retreated from music for a few years, taking various jobs that included armored car guard for Wells Fargo and two years as a corrections officer at Rikers Island prison. The latter job was a harbinger of her onstage persona: Commanding, fierce and demanding respect.

In 1996, Gabriel Roth, current Dap-Kings bandleader and head of now-defunct funk label Desco Records, worked with Jones’ then-fiancé and needed a back-up singer for a few tracks. Jones would record numerous songs as a back-up singer for the label and release “Damn It’s Hot,” her first song as a frontwoman at the age of 40.

After the dissolution of Desco, Roth, alongside saxophonist Neal Sugarman, recruited Jones and the Dap-Kings to record their 2002 debut album Dap Dippin’ With Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on what would become Daptone Records. They recorded in a Williamsburg basement, selling copies out of Sugarman’s kitchen in Brooklyn. (Jones would help Roth build the label’s permanent studio-cum-headquarters in 2002, handling the electrical wiring herself.)

Jones and the Dap-Kings released a series of increasingly popular, horn-anchored soul and funk albums, including 2005’s Naturally, 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights and 2010’s I Learned the Hard Way. The group continued to record and tour constantly, watching their crowds grow as Jones’ roaring voice, frenetic energy and gregarious personality surpassed the initial “female James Brown” comparisons.

In 2012, the group began recording their sixth album, Give the People What They Want, which would earn Jones her first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. The next year, she entered a hospital in Augusta, Georgia with yellow eyes, severe itching and rapid weight loss. The cancer diagnosis was swift and unimaginable. “I just started crying,” Jones told Rolling Stone. “All kinds of thoughts went through my head because I figured that I was going to die.”

Jones continued to perform when possible, using the stage as therapy. “When I walk out [onstage], whatever pain is gone,” Jones said. “You forget about everything. There is no cancer. There is no sickness. You’re just floating, looking in their faces and hearing them scream. That’s all that is to me.”

Sharon Jones was no doubt one of the best soul and funk singers we have ever had. Therefore, her sudden demise is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. We will forever remember her energetic and thrilling performances; and lovely voice.

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