As widely noted, 2016 has been a year of painful loss in music. This month has been particularly bad: Canadian bard Leonard Cohen, jazz hipster Mose Allison, "Drift Away" songwriter Mentor Williams, Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Jules Eskin, music publishing icon/musical polymath Milt Okun, Country singer-songwriter Holly Dunn, music historian/Norton Records co-founder Billy Miller, the uncategorizable Leon Russell, hot-shot bassist Victor Bailey, guitarist Al Caiola, classical pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis, Black Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch, French electronica producer Jean-Jacques Perrey, Sri Lankan violinist W. D. Amaradeva, classic pop singer Kay Starr, jazz bassist Bob Cranshaw, beloved Los Angeles music journalist/proto-punk musician Don Waller, and Irish singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy. Bad news practically every day.
And now Sharon Jones, the sparkplug soul singer whose late-arriving fame is a heartening story of talent winning out and the value of persistance.
Born in Georgia or South Carolina (sources differ) but raised from an early age in Brooklyn, NY, Jones grew up singing in church and at local talent shows, which led to work as a backing vocalist. But her big break didn't come until she was forty years old. At a recording session where none of the other vocalists who'd been hired showed up, she impressed the producers by overdubbing all the parts herself. They recorded a track featuring her as lead vocalist, and across a series of small soul labels, Gabriel Roth kept recording her until finally she got a full album, Dap Dippin', in 2002 on the Daptone label. Four more Daptone LPs, soundtrack work (plus an acting role as a nightclub singer) for the Denzel Washington-starring film The Great Debaters, dozens of one-off singles and compilation appearances, and a documentary film about her battle with pancreatic cancer followed.
All of her albums are great hard soul full of energy and joy, but where Jones really shone was on stage in performance with her ace backing band The Dap-Kings. Sharon Jones shows were a party but also an ecstatic ritual, a celebration of the glory of soul. Watch the full show above to witness her in all her glory. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor. Last year, his soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days was heard at the film's debut screening at Anthology Film Archives, and more recently at the Lausanne Underground Film & Music Festival. The CD of the soundtrack was released in August 2015 by MechaBenzaiten Records (distributed by Forced Exposure).