Dap-Kings Sharon Jones: 'God gave me another chance and I want to get out there'
of the Dap-Kings was just about to make her breakthrough when she was diagnosed with cancer. The soul singer tells Andrew Johnston how she battled the disease and was back performing just four days after finishing her chemotherapy.
After a decade of touring and four albums with her band the Dap-Kings, Sharon Jones had been poised to make her breakthrough into the musical mainstream last year. But just three months before the release of her fifth studio record, Give the People What They Want, fate intervened in the most traumatic fashion when the soul singer was struck down with bile duct cancer.
What should have been a year of tour buses and concert halls, instead saw Jones doing the rounds of hospitals and doctor’s surgeries, as she battled the life-threatening disease. But the veteran vocalist — who has previously worked as a corrections officer and a bank security guard — is made of stern stuff, and less than a year after her diagnosis, was back performing on stage.
“I finished my chemo New Year’s Eve and, on January 4, I was on TV shows,” the star proudly states. “And I’ve been on the road ever since.”
And though you might think her performances would lack the energy for which the Dap-Kings have become famous, the opposite is true.
“Actually, I feel like I have more energy than I had three years ago,” Sharon beams.
The most frustrating thing about her illness, she says, was not being able to stay involved in music.
“No music at all,” sighs the Georgia native. “I mean, I was sick. People don’t even know what I went through. I was cut from right up at the top of my breast down to my navel. They removed my gall bladder, they handed me my pancreas, took out half of my small intestine. I couldn’t even straighten up, let alone sing. I had the operation in June, and the first note I was able to sing was in October.”
Ten months on — and despite still being in some pain from her ordeal — Sharon is thankful for the second shot at life.
“I didn’t even think I was going to see my 58th birthday when I was in the hospital bed,” she admits.
“I just feel that God has given me another chance, and I want to get out there and have another 10 years or so of good singing. I’m here for a reason, and the reason is to let people know that soul music is here.”
After finally making her mainstream musical breakthrough in her fifties, Sharon is taking nothing for granted. She’s excited that there are still new cities to visit, not least of all Belfast, where she makes her debut at the Mandela Hall on October 25, as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s.
Since forming in 1999, Sharon and the Dap-Kings have toured relentlessly and seen their sales and chart positions improve with each new release. They have collaborated with everyone from Beck to Michael Bublé, while Sharon has also acted alongside Denzel Washington in the movie, The Great Debaters.
But for her, nothing tops opening for pop legend Prince in New York and Paris.
“That was the greatest,” she says, laughing.. “For me, it was like being on stage with James Brown or something. And he’s such a down-to-earth person.”
Less smooth going was her stint as a backing vocalist for the late Lou Reed, though she remains positive about the difficult period.
“Lou was Lou,” Sharon smiles. “He had that ‘rock star’ mentality. He didn’t know anything about me, and I have to be truthful, I didn’t know much about him.
“The only time that got him a little angry at me was when I was supposed to come to Europe with him — I had done Australia with him — and three days before, I was offered the movie with Denzel. That’s when the bad blood came between us. His manager was threatening to have me taken out of the movie, blah, blah, blah.
“We were supposed to do a gig that weekend, and he was trying not to call me, but the people at the venue said they really wanted me there, so he had to call me up, and I came, and when I saw Lou, he walked away. So, I ran him down and made him give me a hug, and everything was alright after that.”
While Sharon was locking horns with the former Velvet Underground frontman, the Dap-Kings were backing a troubled icon of their own — Amy Winehouse. In 2006, the eight-piece act recorded the music on the late star’s breakout Back to Black album, as well as touring with her.
Was it strange for Sharon to see someone else fronting her band?
“They didn’t even know who Amy Winehouse was,” Sharon says of the band’s experience with the troubled singer, who died in 2011. “They just said they were going to do some stuff with some British chick. The next week, I saw the paper, and there was a |picture of Amy with the headline, ‘The British are coming.’ It was all about this new soul sensation. I was like, ‘What happened?’
“But we had some time off, and I was doing Lou and Denzel at the time, so everything worked out great.”
It certainly has, and despite it having been a bumpy ride along the way, Sharon has never thought about throwing in the towel. So, what kept her hanging in there throughout her twenties, thirties and forties?
“The fact that God had blessed me with a gift and knowing one day people would accept me for my voice and not the way I looked,” the soul survivor says. “I had to believe in that, and believe in myself.”
- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are playing the Mandela Hall in Belfast on Saturday, October 25. For further details, |visit www. |belfast festival.com
Other stars who were late bloomers
- Rodney Dangerfield — the legendary stand-up who was famed for his catchphrase “No respect” — struggled until being drafted as a last-minute replacement on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967, when he was 46. Even then, it took until Dangerfield was in his early 60s for him to break into movies
- Seasick Steve — the dungaree-sporting, Jools Holland-approved bluesman has made the most of his latter-day success. Born in 1941, the one-time cowboy, carnival worker and busker released the first of his six albums to date in 2004 at the age of 63, mining his rich past life for material
- Susan Boyle — when the unemployed Scot stepped up to sing I Dreamed a Dream on Britain’s Got Talent in April 2009, 10 days after her 48th birthday, little did she know her dream would come true, to the tune of 20 million album sales, three number ones and a current net worth of £22m