Sharon Jones, 60Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Sharon Jones was a relentless performer. Pure kinetic energy onstage, she sang with a soulful voice that laid bare her hard-won fame and her unbridled love for performing. Jones was a late bloomer, told for decades, she said, that she was “too short, too fat, too black and too old” to be a star. Once she finally got to center stage, after working as a back-up vocalist, wedding singer, Rikers prison guard and bank security guard, not even a stage-two pancreatic cancer diagnosis would make her call it quits.
"Singing is my life. And when I can do that, that's when I'm free."- Sharon Jones
As the frontwoman for the Dap-Kings, an R&B band that recorded with vintage instruments and equipment, Jones was an original talent and personality who won comparison to the soul legends of an earlier era. But she refused to be called retro, insisting to her manager, “I’m current, I’m alive now!” Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings became the flagship act of Brooklyn’s Daptone Records, which turned a two-family Bushwick house into its studio and headquarters.
Onstage, she was unstoppable, dancing in colorful dresses, as seen during this July 2015 performance in Alpharetta, Ga.
Jones reflected an incandescent joy when she performed, as seen during this 2012 show in Los Angeles.
Always at her vivacious peak onstage, she was as intensely joyful as ever in her last performances, despite the pain of her cancer treatments. “I never saw her phone it in,” Dap-Kings photographer Jacob Blickenstaff wrote in the New York Times. After suffering a series of strokes, Jones died on November 18, surrounded by friends, family and her bandmates.
Daptone co-founder and Dap-Kings bassist Gabriel Roth told the Los Angeles Times that Jones’s last days were spent making music, even though she’d lost her ability to speak. “She couldn’t say one word… but she could find harmony notes with [the band’s backing vocalists], and sing three-part harmony and improvise these gospel moans. It was really remarkable, and it was beautiful. I've never seen anything like it.”