SOUL ANGEL: Sharon Jones

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She gave the people what we wanted and a whole lot more. R.I.P.

BY FRED MILLS

The music world awoke this morning to the sad news that we’ve lost Sharon Jones following her well-documented battle with cancer. Knowing that she’s now in the proverbial better place is small solace, of course, because anyone who ever saw her perform with the Dap-Kings knows what a monumental, dynamic performer she truly was. The loss is immense. As Pitchfork noted today, her passing has clearly not gone unremarked—and from all points on the musical spectrum—among her peers:

Sharon Jones. Thank you for everything.  — St. Vincent (@st_vincent) November 19, 2016

My deepest condolences 2 the family of @sharonjones. She was the real deal in this industry. 2016 you’ve been awful pic.twitter.com/DQfzVqfrpd  — Chaka Khan (@ChakaKhan) November 19, 2016

So sad to hear about the passing of my friend and the soulful, dynamic singer I loved performing with, Sharon Jones  — John Legend (@johnlegend) November 19, 2016

Sharon Jones had one of the most magnificent, gut-wrenching voices of anyone in recent times. She’ll be so missed. Too sad x  — Mark Ronson (@MarkRonson) November 19, 2016

My heart is broken. This year is so sad. Sharon Jones, thx for inspiring me for so long. Your voice/energy will echo in my heart forever. https://t.co/LEPSqAN2yu  — hayley from Paramore (@yelyahwilliams) November 19, 2016

Rest In Peace to the beautiful black queen Sharon Jones pic.twitter.com/SUftVhDSYt  — Leon Bridges (@leonbridges) November 19, 2016

damn. RIP Sharon Jones.  — Lower Dens (@lowerdens) November 19, 2016

So very sad to hear of Sharon Jones’ passing. An incredibly strong person and a magical performer. Heartbreaking.  — Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) November 19, 2016

One of favourite artists and her music introduced us to a scene of funk/soul that has changed our lives. r.i.p. Sharon Jones. https://t.co/2Td9g1kHmE  — badbadnotgood IV 😉 (@badbadnotgood) November 19, 2016

Sharon Jones was one of the nicest musicians I ever met and an awe-inspiring talent. Rest In Peace.  — Okkervil River (@okkervilriver) November 19, 2016

We’ve still got our memories and plenty of musical documentation, from the band’s numerous records (here’s a review of the album I Learned the Hard Way we published several years ago) to sundry live recordings (such as this one from 2010) and live videos (such as this complete concert from the Olympia in Paris).

BLURT has frequently covered Jones, most recently via ace photog Todd Gunsher’s review and photo gallery of the Dap-Kings live in Raleigh 7/18/15 – the image at the top of the page and the one below are among the pics he snapped:

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And back in 2013, shortly before the world learned of Jones’ cancer diagnosis, she and the band were part of the Daptone Records’ Super Soul Revue at the Moody Theater in Austin during SXSW – the BLURT crew was definitely on hand to catch that performance, as the photos below, by Susan Moll and Tony Landa, testify:

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I was fortunate enough to see her at the Moody show, and in my notes from the evening I observed that whether in a small club or a big theater, Jones would the stage, grabs the audience from the get-go, and not let loose for the duration. Here’s a European concert featuring the Super Soul Revue, which included Charles Bradley, Antibalas and the Sugarman 3, with Jones’ set starting at the 43 minute mark. Whew – an absolute dynamo.

I also got to see her perform early on, around the time of 2005’s Naturally, at a small club in Asheville, NC, and I my review I noted that it was “easily one of the most memorable club shows I’ve ever witnessed. When she strutted out onto the stage, the band vamping behind her, the electricity level in the club immediately skyrocketed, and she proceeded to own the audience for the entire set. There was no doubt among audience members that this tiny woman could kick every single ass in the room.”

By way of digression, check out the group’s Tiny Desk Concert at NPR from last year – it’s a special Christmastime performance that I’ve heard Jones was especially proud of. The confines may have been cramped,  but that voice was as big as the heavens. After that is another broadcast from earlier this year via Austin’s KEXP.

Now I think back to early 2014 when Give the People What They Want was finally released, it having been delayed by the cancer diagnosis. After receiving treatment, though, Jones appeared to be in remission, and the band was able to get the record out and tour behind it. In my review of the album I wrote the following:

She and the band can now concentrate on gettin’ on with the gettin’ on via 10-song set of soulful sonic manna. From the Holland/Dozier/Holland-isms of opening cut “Retreat!” and the stiletto-heeled, girl-group vibe of “We Get Along” to the sinewy swamp-funk of “Long Time, “Wrong Time” and the gorgeous torch-song jazz of “Slow Down Love,” there’s nary a moment missed by the band to demonstrate that Sharon Jones is one of the greatest female vocalist currently operating. 

Well, the only thing that changes for me now is having to make that last sentence past tense, because Sharon Jones was one of a kind. She was not only a proud heiress to a classic tradition, she was also a trailblazer in her own classy way – a “short, fat black woman” (her self-deprecating term, by the way) who suddenly got “discovered” by the music world when she was already in her 40s. Well, guess what? She proceeded to make up for lost time, and never failed to set us all up and knock us down over and over again.

Below, watch the Paris show in its entirety, which was filmed on the Give the People tour. Talk about kicking out the jams – Jones is dancing harder than other performers half her age. And pay close attention to Jones at about the 47 minute mark when she refers directly to her cancer, commanding it to get out of her body and stay out. Which I guess it did, at least for a little while, allowing Jones to complete her mission and go out on top.

Miss Sharon Jones definitely gave the people what we wanted, and a whole lot more. R.I.P., young lady. You earned it.

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