RIP: Sharon Jones (1956–2016)

The Queen of Funk.

Sharon Jones—soul-transmitting genius of dance who as leader of the Dap-Kings helped to reinvigorate funk and R&B music in the 21st Century—has passed away. She was surrounded by her loved ones, including her beloved band.

Sharon Lafaye Jones was born in 1956 in Augusta, Georgia, the hometown of James Brown, whose frenetic onstage style she would later embody. She moved to New York City as a teenager but continued to make trips South during summers. After playing with wedding bands for many years (and working as a corrections officer at Rikers) she was invited to sing backup for Lee Fields in 1996. That session begat touring, which begat singles, which begat the title “Queen of Funk,” bestowed upon her in the UK before she’d even released an full-length album.

Jones made that debut with 2002’s Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, a heavy slab of tight, expertly executed funk. It was the first release on Daptone Records, which would go on to release all of Jones’s albums; Dap Dippin’ set the template for a sound that would define funk and soul in the ensuing years, making aesthetic space for Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars—and leading the Dap-Kings to collaborations with Amy Winehouse, David Byrne and St. Vincent, and John Legend—with whom the band performed Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On at the Kennedy Center for a crowd that included First Lady Michelle Obama; earlier this year, she and the Dap-Kings were invited to play President Obama’s South By South Lawn festival, but concerns over Jones’s health forced them to cancel.

In 2013, after checking into the hospital for dehydration and exhaustion, she was diagnosed with stage one bile duct cancer. The ensuing procedure delayed the release of her album Give the People What They Want and kept her from touring. This period was chronicled in the powerful, difficult documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, which was released earlier this year. While the cameras follow Jones to chemotherapy, her childhood home, and tentative band practices, she does not shy away from sharing her fears and the responsibilities she feels as the leader and force behind the Dap-Kings.

She returned to the stage and toured internationally, releasing both Give the People What They Want and the holiday album It’s a Holiday Soul Party. This summer, she underwent a targeted radiation therapy to cure a newly found cancer that had spread to her spine and returned to chemotherapy. She succumbed to pancreatic cancer this week after a long, heartfelt battle. She was sixty.

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