On Friday November 18, Sharon Jones passed away. She was 60 years old. The longtime soul and funk singer behind Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings had been battling pancreatic cancer for the last few years, but her bold discography kept her and her listeners feeling like she would live for eternity. In 2013, doctors diagnosed Jones with pancreatic cancer, but she, ever the fighter, kept her spirits high and took the stage as soon as she could. She shaved her famous braids, dawned a beautiful baldness, and let her voice soar louder, farther, and deeper than ever. The 2015 film Miss Sharon Jones tracked her battle with the illness and her rise above it, and after its premiere in Toronto, she announced she had entered remission. A year later, though, the soul singer was taken from us far too soon.
Sharon Jones was once a corrections officer and armored car guard but changed her life forever at the age of 40 when she formally broke into the music industry. Working as a back up singer, Jones caught the attention of Pure Records folks and, in time, those at Daptone Records. Around 2002, she released her debut LP with the Dap-Kings, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. There was no looking back. They released the excellent 100 Days, 100 Nights, Give the People What They Want, and a charming holiday LP in 2015, along with three other full-lengths. Her jubilant performances and frenzied dancing left any and all onlookers heart-eyed, and her albums carried that same grace, offering up hope everywhere she saw possible. Sharon Jones was a tour de force that seemed too good to be true — which is why you had to see her to believe it.
We’ve hand-picked five live performances by Sharon Jones that illustrate just how contagious her vibrant positivity was. Scroll down to dive into the pile, and be sure to leave a comment with your favorite clip if you don’t see it on here. Let’s cherish the life Sharon Jones lived because, if one thing is certain, she is still singing her heart out from a different plane and gifting it to all of us from above. RIP.
1. “Let Them Knock” (2007)
Fresh off the natural high that comes with the release of a new record, Sharon Jones kicks right through the center of 100 Days, 100 Nights’ “Let Them Knock” 1 with a beautiful mix of nostalgia and energy. Dig through early material and it’s clear Jones was born an entertainer. It’s in her blood. So this rendition of the song shows how it’s done. This is how you take what’s traditionally considered to be a slow song, grab the audience by the waist, and spin them around in a dance of charm. Finger wags and hip checks are the simplest of moves used to rope people in. When combined with her fantastic vocals, she keeps people dancing in place. Watching her command the stage with unbridled spirit, she is invincible.
2. “When I Come Home” feat. Prince (2011)
If you think you have energy, try keeping up with Sharon Jones. The singer never falters or misses a note when dancing onstage. This 2011 performance of “When I Come Home” in Paris sees her at the top of her game, pre-cancer and peak-powerhouse. The biggest signifier of her excellence? The fact that a cameo from Prince—yes, the real Purple One—doesn’t steal the show from Jones. He appears in a hooded outfit, busts out several speedy guitar licks, and takes a casual (but still masterful) solo. But what you’re left freaking out about the most are her dance moves on the stage divider. She treats that stretch of stage like a childhood bedroom, busting out the Funky Chicken dance, flipping her head back, and keeping her feet going nonstop, never once losing her breath. You’re tempted to take a sip of water just watching her shake it.
3. “I’ll Still Be True” (2010)
Sharon Jones had a deep burning fire. During her 2010 SXSW performance, she knew to mix in humor with intimacy, cracking jokes about her St. Patrick’s Day outfit and her bustling shimmy while she tackles “I’ll Still Be True,” a beautiful song about being taken for granted and the struggles of getting over someone. She’s singing about being teary eyed, but the song punches with uplifting momentum regardless. She believes in herself. She believes in you. It builds in marvelous fashion, her voice jetting outwards as a life raft free to use at any time. At the start of the clip, her band introduces her as “a much celebrated sister who’s about to get her due.” It doesn’t even take a minute into the song for Jones to get her due and then some, the crowd totally infatuated with Jones’ ample skills.
4. “This Land Is Your Land” (2014)
One of Sharon Jones’ best known numbers is a powerful take on “This Land Is Your Land.” Instead of staying true to the Woodie Guthrie original, she turns the protest song into a soulful reminder. Its rigidity gets reshaped into a snarky eyebrow raised mid-sentence. She calls out to her friends, to listeners, to people around the world, uniting them by way of legitimization. In this version, she lets her voice scratch and rip, building towards an ending that raises goosebumps with ease. Sharon Jones could sing, it’s true. She could also rally people together, never once using fear or hatred as motivators to do so.
5. “Silent Night” (2015)
The uptempo numbers are what made Sharon Jones’ live shows worth telling your friends about, but it’s the slow cuts that made her voice one that echoed in your head forever. Jones knew how to deliver soul notes with full lungs. During a 2015 Tiny Desk Concert last winter, she came with a bundle of holiday songs tucked under her arm. Backed by the on-point Dap-Kings, she rolls through Christmas and Hanukkah songs alike, but it’s the opening cut, their jazz-like take on “Silent Night,” that stirs the room. Here is a woman singing her heart out after facing one too many silent nights of her own, good and bad. It’s hard to watch her belt these notes in a slow sway without getting teary eyed. The song kicks off the Tiny Desk Concert, but it’s worth watching the whole video to get some extra holiday cheer direct from one of the cheeriest singers in the soul game.
Do you guys have any favorite songs by Ms. Sharon Jones? Let us know in the comments below and play her music loud for the people you love this week.
Image: Motormouth Media