Sharon Jones: a soul survivor who helped rejuvenate a classic sound

By her own admission, she was an unlikely star who waited decades for her chance and then became a figurehead for fans seeking true soul

As reports confirmed Sharon Jones death on Friday evening, one thing emerged: hundreds if not thousands of fan pictures, selfies taken with Ms Jones from her gigs all over the globe with her band, the Dap-Kings. That is perhaps what is most striking: she was a firecracker, a lioness of a performer, yet completely accessible to her admirers. If you were lucky enough to see her perform live you felt as if you had underpaid; she was a workhorse, a tremendous dancer, a radiant, gleeful, funny performer, and in possession of an unforgettable, booming voice.

With all the recent acclaim surrounding her (including a documentary), its easy forget that Jones career started at age 40 and her successes essentially came within the last decade. Similar to Bill Withers, success came later in life for Jones, which is certainly another facet of inspiration for her fans and peers. It was a quick rise and her peers noticed. There was that one time Prince surprised her by jumping onstage in Paris. Chaka Khan, a huge part of the soul pantheon, tweeted: She was a real deal in this industry. Leon Bridges, whose career was in partly paved by Sharons bolstering of the modern soul revival, had this to say: Rest in peace to the beautiful black queen.

Her label, Daptone Records, initially a small indie label run out of Brooklyn, thrived mostly because Sharon was their nucleus, their figurehead, and surely she shined. Her small frame, age, and the years of refusal she faced added to the unlikeliness of her success: she was told for years that she was too short, too black, and not pretty enough. If that tale sounds similar to Nina Simones, it is because they were both black, talented, uncompromising, bold, and not part of the status quo. On Netflixs surprise juggernaut success, Luke Cage, Sharon bookends the series finale with her song 100 Days, 100 Nights. On it, she sings: One hundred days, 100 nights, to know a mans heart. Through her emotive art, we felt like we knew hers.

Sharon was only 60 when she died, and thats an uncomfortable number to swallow, especially because she projected so much life and liveliness. Though her career was not as lengthy as those of Prince or David Bowie (both of whom, along with Leonard Cohen and several other towering cultural figures, we lost this year), Sharons music lives on. Her legacy will thrive on through all the fans she took time to meet with, all the members of the Brooklyn soul scene who became extended family, and to all listeners who were fortunate enough to be alive when she decided to sing for us. Thank you, Sharon Jones.

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