Sharon Jones: Bringing Back Old School

Listen to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings on MySpace...

Words by: Andrew Bruss

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings
For anyone who suggests that soul music is dead, you clearly haven't heard Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Jones and her Motown-esque backing band are one of the most authentic, heart-wrenching groups to bring r&b to the stage since Marvin Gaye asked, "What's Going On?" The Dap-Kings, the house band for Daptone Records, garnered a significant degree of media attention from their role in the rise of British sensation Amy Winehouse, who they've worked with both in the studio and live. But, the old school sound Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings champion has been winning people over since well before Winehouse had been heard of Stateside.

After a midlife career shift that drove Jones from singing part time with wedding bands to making music full time, she saddled up with the Dap-Kings to bring the sound she grew up with on the road. But before any of this, the story of Sharon Jones starts in the hometown of James Brown, Augusta, Georgia. "I didn't really grow up in Augusta" says Jones. "I grew up in New York, but every summer, since I was twelve, my mom would send me South because my parents were separated."

Jones' upbringing was split between the urban, culturally influential surroundings of New York City and the rural, church-heavy atmosphere that bred the Godfather of Soul. Like many of the legends Jones grew up on, particularly Aretha Franklin, a big stepping-stone in her musical journey began in a church choir. She cites an early interest in music that her days in the choir helped to nurture. When the notion of taking her voice on the road came along, it seemed as though everyone she encountered drove her dreams into the ground. "I've always been into music. I'd been singing in church since I was a little girl, but as far as making it professionally, in the early '80s and on, people told me I didn't have the look and that disgusted me. They told me I was too dark, too short, too fat and once I got past 20-something they told me I was too old. They told me I needed to bleach my skin," laments Jones.

Sharon Jones by Delineated
Interestingly enough, a lot of the criticisms Jones was forced to bear have in time proven to be beneficial to her career. Her age has given her a sense of wisdom that comes from having lived for 51 years. As she struts around onstage with the mic in hand, her stout build stands as evidence to everyone in her audience that she is more than just another pretty face that a label deemed marketable. The confidence comes from her sense of self - a fundamental component of her stage persona.

After years of performing part time while working as a prison guard, Jones decided to ignore the voices of discouragement and attempt to follow her dream of being a professional singer. "If you've got a gift, and you can sing, go for it," Jones enthuses. "They told me all of that [about my look] years ago. I said 'God gave me a gift, and one day people will accept me for my voice and for who I am, not for my skin or for how fat I look." With a fresh burst of confidence, Jones dove headfirst into a journey she had been hoping to take since she was a child. "With other groups, I was doing a lot of cover stuff and studio sessions and background work" recalls Jones. "But when The Dap-Kings came around, we were doing originals."

Sharon Jones
Jones approached her musical career with the natural handicap of having spent much of her life avoiding performing, but as soon as she met up with The Dap-Kings, the ball got rolling. "They needed three background singers to sing for them, and I said 'Why use three girls when I can do a three part harmony.' So, I went in with them to do some background stuff and next thing you know they kept me and we went from there," explains Jones.

As her tenure with The Dap-Kings seemed to solidify, things started picking up fast for the group. "The first major moment [was] back when The Dap-Kings were called The Soul Providers. I'd say things changed when we opened for Maceo Parker [in London]. That was a big thing because I'd never sang in front of that many people. Then about five years later, we sang for thousands of people in Canada at a festival, and that's when I knew things were starting to happen," Jones offers. "Then we started to pick up in the magazines more and more, and that's when I really knew something good was coming from what we're doing."

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