This what soul music is all about. Sharon Jones was a modern-day paragon of soul, and her life was its own triumphant soul song. Soul music is the expression of people’s downright magical ability to nourish love, optimism and generosity of spirit out of a lifetime of hardship, disappointment and misfortune. It’s this big-spirited perseverance that allows us, as people, to continue hanging in there, all together. Nothing reflects that more than the vibrancy and creative joy that flourish in the most oppressed and disenfranchised communities. All broad sociological strokes aside, though, we love soul music because it makes us feel good and reminds us that we can and should feel good despite the worst of times, and that satiates a universal thirst for comfort.
Sharon Jones has the answer to the age old soul singer’s question of what to do with a no-good man. Obliterate him. Make him quiver before your fabulosity. Send him packing with his bag of tricks. Jones learned the hard way how no-good live could be, but her message was never that life sucks. Because Jones also learned that music and creativity are the path to empowerment. She earned her creative and economic independence after many years of struggling, which makes her just about the most inspiring role model anyone could hope for. She wasn’t a 17-year-old sensation whose career was a reward for being pretty. She was a tough woman with something to say, who honed her talent in obscurity and earned the respect of her peers. The unfortunate downside to late-life success is that the good years may not last very long, and Sharon Jones was one of the casualties of 2016 (she dealt with the election of Donald Trump by dropping dead, which is something a lot of us wish we could have done.) She deserved many more years of building her legacy.
A slightly belated tribute to the late legend Sharon Jones. Jones passed away on November 18th, and if nobody has optioned the film rights to her life story yet, someone needs to get on it. (I want Viola Davis on this, ASAP!) Jones’ life was truly a success story that couldn’t have been better written; she was one of those rare artists whose talents aren’t rewarded until well into mid-life. She was in her mid forties when she became one of the founding artists at Daptone Records, and began recording with her band The Dap-Kings. Before that she spent years working as a guard at Rikers Island and other thankless jobs. Even her passing was a twist stranger than fiction – weakened by an ongoing battle with cancer, she suffered a stroke while watching the results of the presidential election. But, though fascinating, Jones’ incredible life is not really what her legacy is about. Her legacy is how she near-singlehandedly revived old-school soul and funk music at a time when R’N’B was more ‘ratchet and bitches’ than ‘rhythm and blues’. Neo-soul has become increasingly popular recently, with more interest in classic Motown and a wave of younger artists like Anthony Hamilton and Mayer Hawthorne adapting the style. And it was Sharon Jones who took the form out of the realm of nostalgia and pastiche; making searing authentic soul music for a new generation; reminding us that real soul is never irrelevant.