Sharon Jones, whose albums and electrifying live performances with her band the Dap-Kings helped lead a soul and funk revival, died Friday at the age of 60 after battling pancreatic cancer.
“We are deeply saddened to announce Sharon Jones passed away today after a heroic battle against pancreatic cancer. She was surrounded by her loved ones, including the Dap-Kings,” read a statement on the singer’s Facebook page.
Jones was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 but continued to perform live, even as she underwent chemotherapy this summer, according to The New York Times.
Sharon Jones was born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1956 and moved with her family to Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood as a child. She began performing at a young age as a gospel singer and with funk bands in Brooklyn, and continued to work as a wedding singer during the 1970s. She also held jobs as a corrections officer at Rikers Island and a guard for Wells Fargo before gaining mainstream attention as an artist.
Jones told Rolling Stone in July that she had difficulty finding success in the music industry. “I wasn’t what they was looking for,” she said. “They just looked at me and they didn’t like what they saw: a short, black woman.”
In 1996, Jones met Gabriel Roth, Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records, who hired her as a backup singer before featuring her as a frontwoman on “Damn It’s Hot.” Jones and the Dap-Kings joined forces to release the debut album “Dap Dippin’ With Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings” in 2002, when she was 46. It was the first of six albums that they would record together.
The independent label was important to Jones, who helped build the Daptone Records studio in the early 2000s. “A major label’s going to do what?” she told Billboard. “I sing one or two songs, they give me a few million dollars, which they’re going to want back, and then the next thing you know, the next record don’t sell, and then they’re kicking me to the curb. With us, this is our label, this is our project.”
But it was her live shows that distinguished her as a uniquely vibrant performer, functioning “as equal parts Baptist church revival, Saturday night juke joint and raucous 1970s Las Vegas revue,” wrote Jason Newman of Rolling Stone.
Jones told the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown in 2010 that she deeply connected to the work of James Brown and the retro-soul sound that marked her work. “To me, soul music is not something you can pick up and play. You have to feel that,” she said.
In the same conversation, Roth said that Daptone Records “never came into it with an agenda that we were trying to revive something. It was very natural,” he said. “This is the music that makes sense to us.”
The documentary “Miss Sharon Jones!” followed the singer from her diagnosis in 2013 to her performances in 2015. That same year, she and the Dap-Kings were nominated for a Grammy for the album “Give the People What They Want.”
Celebrities and fans paid tribute to Jones online.
Hail Hail, a genius has vacated this realm, RIP @sharonjones my favorite singer.
— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) November 19, 2016
— Chaka Khan (@ChakaKhan) November 19, 2016
The fabulous Sharon Jones has passed tonight she & her band The DapKings made great music together & she sang her butt off. Condolences RIP
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) November 19, 2016