Roller-coaster year for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

by Steve Knopper

Newsday (MCT)

19 February 2008


Had Amy Winehouse not melted down this past year, 51-year-old soul singer Sharon Jones might have gone to the Grammy Awards for the first time.

It seems Winehouse was supposed to perform in Los Angeles with Jones’ super-tight, eight-man backup band, the Dap-Kings. And Jones was supposed to headline a party for Winehouse’s producer, Mark Ronson (who won a Grammy for producer of the year). But, as everybody knows, the troubled Winehouse wasn’t able to make the trip to Los Angeles. So she stayed in London and performed via satellite with a different band. The Dap-Kings, who backed Winehouse on her Grammy-winning debut “Back to Black,” learned three days before the awards show that they wouldn’t make the trip.

“It didn’t work. The guys were ready to fly out there Thursday. It was a little bit of a disappointment, but that’s OK,” says Jones, from a Laundromat in Queens, where she’s waiting for her clothes to dry. “We’re all proud and happy for Amy. She looked great.”

Jones has had that kind of year. On the one hand, after working since she was a kid to make it in show business, her beefed-up and beautiful 2007 soul album “100 Days, 100 Nights” was a career breakthrough - it led to prominent on-screen and soundtrack roles in the Denzel Washington movie “The Great Debaters” and a singing slot on rocker Lou Reed’s tour. On the other, Jones suffered one personal tragedy after another - her mother had a stroke, and while she’s “doing much better on her own now,” Jones’ brother died just before Christmas and the singer says she lost 24 close friends and family members in 2007.

“People on the phone say, `Wow, that was such a great year for me!’ But they don’t know,” Jones says, with enthusiasm that undercuts some of the sad things she talks about.

Born in Augusta, Ga., Jones moved to Brooklyn with her mother and five siblings when she was a child. Her singing career began in church, and she spent her childhood competing in talent shows and fronting local funk bands. Although she sang professionally for most of her life, often at weddings, Jones endured miserable day jobs - she was a prison guard at Rikers Island and an armored-car guard for Wells Fargo Bank. In 1996, she landed an unexpected break - backup vocals for established soul singer Lee Fields. The connection with Fields’ record label led to a fruitful collaboration with producer Bosco “Bass” Mann.

Mann became the foundation for the Dap-Kings, and Jones finally became a big enough star to quit her day jobs in 2003 - although she still does her own laundry, and her 1988 Honda broke down last year. “They wouldn’t accept me when I was younger - I was too dark, and then I was too old,” she says. “But I never stopped singing. It’s all good.”

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