Sharon Lafaye Jones – 4th May 1956 – 18th November 2016
Sharon Jones was considered by many to be the spiritual leader of the 2nd wave of funk music production that initially grew out of the late Acid Jazz/early ‘Deep Funk’ days, where more commonly heard sounds where being replaced by a desire to dig deeper into the vast back catalogue of America’s otherwise unheard black music past. Often taking James Brown as their departure point, the productions that labels like Desco, Pure and Hotpie & Candy were creating deliberately plugged into the analogue side of soul and absorbed the energy of an increasingly expansive number of ‘new discoveries’ that had an independent – at times home-made – feel.
From tentative beginnings at Gabe Roth & Phillip Lehman’s Desco Records (she got her break when she featured as a backing singer to a Lee Fields number) Sharon would grow to become the constant, radiating nucleus around which the fledgling New York imprint would operate. Releasing a string of now in demand records on the Desco imprint it was when Daptone was born out of the ashes of the influential Roth/Lehman label that Sharon found wider acclaim. Released in 2002 the seminal album ‘Dap-Dippin’ by Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings was a high octane tour-de-force that quickly established her as more than just an artist releasing relatively low profile 45s: Sharon and her band were now a globe trotting funky soul juggernaut that thrilled with their relentless stage shows and energy. Three years later ‘Naturally’ showed a slight change in style with more soul thrown in allowing the breadth of Sharon’s vocals to shine. The exceptional ‘100 Days 100 Nights’ and ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ albums followed between 2007 and 2010.
As the (often so-called) ‘funk revival’ scene grew, many other bands and acts would take their inspiration from Sharon Jones, seeing her as a trailblazer that showed them anything was possible. The sight of groups performing on sometimes crowded stages, with brass sections huddling next to the bassist who squeezed in behind the lead singer who was almost sitting on the drummer’s knee took the sound straight to the audience on an often intimate level. All the while Sharon’s dynamite presence and fire was helping both the band and the music to enter the mainstream (even leading her to back Michael Buble on one release) with many TV appearances in the US and sell out shows, though the integrity of the sound was never compromised and Sharon’s loyalty to the Daptone label was borne out of a love of the artistic freedom that the imprint allowed. As this wonderful article shows, Sharon was no prima dona: even when she and the group were a household name she would remain down to earth and humble. Let’s not forget that she helped to build the ‘House Of Soul’ studios – there’s footage of her doing some work on the electrics in the building!
In 2013 it was revealed that Sharon had cancer and the diagnosis meant that her fifth album, 2014’s superb ‘Give The People What They Want’ was delayed. The treatment Sharon underwent meant that she suffered hair loss but true to form she adapted and sported the defiant cropped look that many will remember her for. Short in stature but huge in personality she got her break at the age of 40 and left an indelible musical and emotional mark on thousands of fans – many will say it took forty years to meet the perfect partner in Bosco Mann (the stage name for bassist, songwriter and label boss Gabe Roth) but once the partnership had been formed the results were explosive. From a personal point of view, Sharon and the Dap Kings performing on probably the smallest stage on earth at Madame JoJos way back in the early 2000s is something that I am thankful to have witnessed. Her legacy will live on every time those familiar, powerful vocals come through the speakers, at home, on the radio or in the club. Thank you for the music Miss Sharon Jones! Rest In Power!