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SHARON JONES,
1956-2016

Sharon Jones, a soul singer who came to prominence in her 40s and 50s and was a cornerstone of the recent classic soul music revival, died Friday of pancreatic cancer. She was 60.

 Jones’ battle with cancer was chronicled in the documentary Miss Sharon Jones, which followed her bravely battling treatment, getting on the road and recording with her band the Dap Kings. Members of the band and other loved ones were with her when she passed.

Jones, a humble and kind spirited woman, and the Dap-Kings recorded seven albums, but they reached a broad audience with exhilarating live shows that recalled the exuberance of legendary soul singers of the 1960s. Rather than play to soul music aficionados, Jones performed mostly for indie rock crowds too young to have references points such as Solomon Burke, James Brown, Etta James and gospel greats whose high-energy shows she emulated. 

A native of Georgia raised in South Carolina who moved to New York in the 1970s, Jones was a wedding band singer for 20 years before being invited to back up Lee Fields, another late-in-life-soul singer, on a session for Desco Records. She impressed the label owners Philip Lehman and Gabriel Roth and was hired to participate in the Desco Super Soul Revue as well as record a handful of singles for Desco. In the U.K., she developed her own following and was able to tour in 1999 as the Queen of Funk.

Desco folded in 2000 and Roth and Jones soldiered on with a new band, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The band got a residency in Barcelona and in a studio in the club’s basement, they recorded her self-titled debut on Daptone Records, the label Roth founded with saxophonist Neal Sugarman.

Jones and the Dap-Kings became a touring force, playing 250 shows in 2005 alone after recording the album Naturally.

Jones and the Dap-Kings’ third album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, elevated their profile significantly after they had already made inroads into the mainstream: By then Jones had toured with Lou Reed, played The Late Show With David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s talk show and the band backed Amy Winehouse on her album Back to Black.  In 2008, the band developed a following among alternative rock circles by playing the festival circuit—Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and others—and touring internationally.

Jones’ I Learned The Hard Way came out in 2010 and debuted in the Top 20 upon release. By that point she was a regular on talk shows and sharing the stage with Prince, Stevie Wonder and her label-mates such as Charles Bradley.

Jones started to get singing roles in films such as The Great Debaters and The Wolf of Wall Street, which used the band’s version of “Goldfinger.” Their rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” served as the theme for the George Clooney film Up in the Air.

Jones was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in 2013. Soon thereafter, Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple began work on the documentary that would become Miss Sharon Jones, a chronicle of her career and battles with other forms of cancer.

Post-treatment, Jones toured North America, Europe and Down Under in 2014 and their album Give The People What They Want secured their first Grammy nomination.

Jones and the Dap-Kings last tour was in 2015 with the Tedeschi Trucks Band; they recently opened shows for Daryl Hall & John Oates

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