Sharon Jones passed last night, adding to the incredible litany of artists and important people we’ve lost in 2016. Miss Jones death is in its own way, is just as significant to me as those of Natalie Cole, Maurice White, and the many other incredible artists we’ve lost this past year. Along with the funky New York band, The Dap Kings, Miss Jones brought incredible down home soul and funk to the world in the early 21st Century. That is a true accomplishment in a time of such disposable sounds and music.
Sharon is an artist who had to wait many years for her big break in the music industry. She hailed from the same city as the Godfather of Soul himself, August “G.A.”. She worked regular jobs for years to have money to send back home to her family. Finally she hooked up with the Dap Kings and along with them made music that perfectly captured the classic soul sounds of the ’60s and ’70s.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have been very important to my own musical enjoyment and growth over the past ten years or so. As a musician I had the same goals that The Dap Kings did, which was to produce music with the spirit and sound of the classic funk and soul era. I also had a thing for working with older artists and vocalists, but me and my music buddies never hit on a soul vocalist as incredible as Miss Sharon Jones. Together they did something that was almost unthinkable, finding a strong audience for classic soul sounds in the present day.
I’ve mentioned Miss Jones and The Dap Kings music several times on this blog as an example of why the Internet is the home of good music today. Miss Jones music should truthfully have been a mainstay of classic soul stations and R&B stations in general. She has the type of music you could play for a soul fan that would immediately set them to trying to remember when they heard it back in the day. And I’m sure you’d have a hard time convincing them it wasn’t some old 45 they used to dance to in the living room. With Miss Jones energetic, Tina Turner/James Brown type performance style and the bands dapper, sharp suited musical precision, they were one of the premier touring bands in the world. But without the radio exposure and big hits, they mostly played either small theater type shows by themselves, or opened for bigger bands. Exposure on the Adult Contemporary formats could have given them the bigger profile that they deserved. Together they had a sound that would have been music to any Soul fan or lover of good music’s ears.
Yet, the musical story of Sharon and the Dap Kings is not a sad one at all. It’s also proof of what the new world of the Internet, and the old staple of a vigorous live show can do for an artist in the 21st Century. It’s almost a prototypical modern music story. Without major radio play, without the saturation of televised videos, Sharon and the Dap Kings were able to become one of the most popular live acts in the country, they were able to play television shows such as Conan, Jimmy Fallon, and Ellen. They were able to share stages with Prince. They got write ups in major magazines and newspapers. They were a highly visible “underground” music act, one who’s reputation was unimpeachable when it came to the question of musical quality. All of this came from a sure, certain musical ethic, a family style organizational structure, careful Internet marketing and the creation of brand loyalty through quality performance, and a dynamic lead singer finally getting her opportunity beyond all shallow notions in Ms. Sharon Jones. Even though their music spoke to the best of the ’60s and ’70s, their success could only truly happen today.
I’m greatly saddened by Sharon’s passing because I felt she had so much more to give. She was a relatively young proponent of classic soul and funk in a time when so much classic soul and funk has already left us. But truth be told, she gave so very much when she was here. And she left us a body of work that shows it’s still possible to dig deep into the soul to bring forth music in the digital age. Her success has been one of the best musical events of my lifetime and I hope many other talents will take her example as a call to never give up, and also to bring that old school soul in concert with the younger generations!