Sharon Jones, Powerful Voice of Soul With the Dap-Kings, Dies at 60
By STEVE KENNY and NOV. 18, 2016
Sharon Jones performing at Radio City Music Hall in 2009. Nicholas Roberts for The New York Times
Sharon Jones, the soul singer and powerful voice of the band the Dap-Kings, died on Friday of pancreatic cancer that had been in remission but returned last year. She was 60.
Ms. Jones’s death was confirmed by Judy Miller Silverman, her publicist. She said Ms. Jones was surrounded by members of the Dap-Kings and other loved ones when she died.
She continued performing throughout the summer, even while undergoing chemotherapy that she said caused neuropathy in her feet and legs and restricted her movements onstage. But Ms. Jones remained undeterred.
“Getting out on that stage, that’s my therapy,” Ms. Jones said in a New York Times interview published in July. “You have to look at life the way it is. No one knows how long I have. But I have the strength now, and I want to continue.”
The summer tour promoted “I’m Still Here,” a single with the Dap-Kings that detailed Ms. Jones’s birth in a brutally segregated South, a childhood in the burned-out Bronx, and a career hampered by record executives who considered her “too short, too fat, too black and too old.”
Ms. Jones was that rare music star who found fame in middle age, when she was in her 40s.
In addition to working as a correction officer at Rikers Island and an armed guard for Wells Fargo, Ms. Jones, who had grown up singing gospel in church choirs, initially dabbled in professional music as a session singer and the vocalist in a wedding band, Good N Plenty.
After meeting Gabriel Roth, the producer and songwriter also known as Bosco Mann, Ms. Jones made the leap from backup singer to main attraction. Desco Records released her debut 7-inch vinyl single, “Damn It’s Hot,” in 1996. She was 40.
With the encouragement and songwriting of Mr. Roth, who co-founded the Brooklyn soul and funk revival label Daptone Records and serves as the bandleader of the Dap-Kings, Ms. Jones’s full-length debut, “Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings,” came out in 2002. She would go on to release four more studio albums and two compilations on the small label, a point of pride for the fiercely independent Ms. Jones.
“A major label’s going to do what?” she said to Billboard last year. “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.”
Ms. Jones in 2007. She fought pancreatic cancer after a 2013 diagnosis. Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Sharon Lafaye Jones was born on May 4, 1956, in Augusta, Ga., though her family lived just across the border in North Augusta, S.C. In “Miss Sharon Jones!” the singer recalled that her mother had needed a cesarean section, but because of segregation in the Jim Crow south, she was not allowed in the hospital’s main unit and was instead relegated to a storage room.
After her parents separated, Ms. Jones, the youngest of six children, moved with her mother to New York and was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. “But New York in 1960, no peace to be found,” she sang on “I’m Still Here.” “Segregation, drugs and violence was all around.”
She went on to attend Brooklyn College and acted in “Sister Salvation,” an Off-Broadway play, before turning her focus to music.
With her late start, Ms. Jones recorded and performed at an unrelenting pace, and in the last year and a half of her life she made two albums, opened two national tours for Hall & Oates, was featured in a television commercial for Lincoln (performing the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider”) and starred in “Miss Sharon Jones!,” a documentary about her life.
The film traced her life from the diagnosis of Stage 2 pancreatic cancer in 2013 through her triumphant return to the stage in 2015. Ms. Jones is survived by four siblings, seven nieces and three nephews.
“Sharon is always up,” the film’s director, Barbara Kopple, said at the time of its release. “Even when she’s in the room where people are getting chemo, she’s the sunshine.”
During her illness, Ms. Jones and the Dap-Kings earned a Grammy nomination in 2015 for best R&B album with “Give the People What They Want.” (“Why is there not a category for soul?” Ms. Jones told Billboard at the time. “That’s my goal. Put me in the right category.”)
The singer, who also collaborated live and on tour with Lou Reed, Phish, Michael Bublé and David Byrne, publicly announced the return of her cancer in September 2015 at the film’s first showing at the Toronto International Film Festival. Doctors, she said, had found a spot on her liver. “I didn’t want people to come up and congratulate me on beating cancer when it’s back,” she said.
That recurrence was treated with radiation. But in May, while she was on tour, cancer cells were found in her stomach, lymph nodes and lungs. Chemotherapy was required, although Ms. Jones changed the regimen to give her greater freedom of movement.
“I need to dance onstage,” she said. “I don’t want something that makes me bedridden. I want to live my life to the fullest.”