The indefatigable Miss Sharon Jones passed away Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer that illuminated the woman's irrepressible spirit and succeeded in extending the life of one of the most unlikely and impressive musical careers in recent memory.
Sharon Lafaye Jones was born in Augusta in 1956 and moved back to her hometown in recent years, in part to be close to her mother. In between, she released her first album at age 40 and gradually built an international following so devoted that Prince once surprised her on stage to sit in with the Dap-Kings, her longtime band that fueled her well-deserved breakthrough.
Standing 4-foot-10 and solidly built (she worked security jobs at Rikers Penitentiary and on a Wells Fargo cash truck to pay the bills while pursuing her dream), Jones faced skepticism from music executives who couldn’t visualize her as a typical frontwoman. That all changed when she joined forces with Gabriel Roth of scrappy Brooklyn independent label Dap-Tone Records, who recognized that Miss Sharon’s atypical charm was the secret weapon. Together, they blazed a trail of 15 years and six albums of fiery, timeless funk/soul that serves as Jones’ lasting legacy.
The critically lauded film “Miss Sharon Jones” documents Jones’ triumphant battle to return to the stage following the 2013 cancer diagnosis that put the release of “Give the People What They Want” (her biggest selling album) on hold for a year. The movie’s sublime blend of stellar performance footage and human storytelling makes it a must-see. Jones’ final release was 2015’s “It’s a Holiday Soul Party,” which will serve as a fitting remembrance during the coming season.
The civic-minded Jones designated three charities for fans’ support in lieu of flowers. One of these, the James Brown Family Foundation, is an apt nod to her Augusta roots and perhaps her closest musical kindred spirit.