Sharon Jones, the stout powerhouse lead singer of the Dap-Kings, who shepherded a soul revival despite not finding stardom until middle age, has died. She was 60.
Jones’ representative, Judy Miller Silverman, said Jones died Friday of pancreatic cancer at a Cooperstown, New York, hospital. Loved ones and members of her retro-soul band were among those surrounding her, Silverman said.
The story of Jones’ battle with cancer, first diagnosed in 2013, was told in Barbara Kopple’s documentary, “Miss Sharon Jones!” released earlier this year. Though she triumphantly returned to the stage in 2015 after the cancer went into remission, Jones late last year announced it had returned.
Still, she mounted another comeback with the defiant single “I’m Still Here” and hit the road again this summer with the Dap-Kings even while undergoing chemotherapy.
“You got to be brave,” a debilitated Jones told The Associated Press in July, in between tour stops. “I want to use the time that I have. I don’t want to spend it all laid up, wishing I had done that gig.”
The British producer Mark Ronson, who brought the Dap-Kings in to play backing band to Amy Winehouse on her breakthrough album, “Back to Black,” said, “Sharon Jones had one of the most magnificent, gut-wrenching voices of anyone in recent time.”
The youngest of six children, Sharon Lafaye Jones was born on May 4, 1956, in Augusta, Georgia. Her family lived in nearby North Augusta, South Carolina, across the Savannah River from the birthplace of James Brown. Jones, who would grow into a dynamic, showstopping performer, grew up idolizing the Godfather of Soul and would later be frequently tagged as “the female James Brown.”
But for decades, such a fate was unimaginable. On “I’m Still Here,” she sings of being turned down by music executives for being “too short, too fat, too black and too old.”
After growing up in Brooklyn, Jones regularly sang gospel at her church, performed for years in a wedding band and sang backup for various session bands. To make ends meet, she worked as a correction officer at the Rikers Island jail complex and was a bank security guard.
But in one recording session, she caught the attention of Gabriel Roth and Philip Lehman. The two, blown away by Jones’ fiery voice, made her the lead singer of their newly formed Dap-Kings and launched the Bushwick, Brooklyn-based label, Daptone Records.