'Miss Sharon Jones!' Captures the Remaining Days of This Wonderful Artist

Barbara Kopple’s documentary accomplishes a great deal in shining a light on such a dynamic figure at such a difficult time.

Miss Sharon Jones!

Director: Barbara Kopple
Distributor: Anchor Bay
Rated: Unrated
US DVD release date: 2016-11-01
“And the night when my mother died, and the band was there. Then when we went on stage and that music is out there. I have no worries in the world. I don’t think about anything, any pain. Sure, there’s death, but people come to see us. And the show must go on.”

-- Sharon Jones

Miss Sharon Jones! follows soul singer Jones through her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from pancreatic cancer, all while continuing to record and perform when possible. Directed by Barbara Kopple, the documentary spans a year in Jones’ life, one in which she fights to continue a career she’s worked towards her whole life.

Jones is an exceptionally fascinating subject. She’s an exuberant presence, both on stage and off, and she’s remarkably down to earth. She and her band The Dap-Kings, along with backup singers, the Dap-ettes, are working musicians who’ve been toiling away for years in the music business and they take nothing for granted. Their success has come slowly, but steadily, but their talent is undeniable. Playing soul and funk music reminiscent of Jones’ idol, James Brown, and other '60s greats such as Ike and Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and the Motown and Stax luminaries of the time, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings never sound like a throwback act.

In one scene, Jones attends a church service, though she admits she doesn’t attend regularly, and it communicates everything you need to know about her. It’s an amazing, ebullient performance in which she sings, wails, dances, and eventually ends when she sits down exhausted and out of breath. She may be in the midst of receiving chemotherapy, but she’s incapable of holding back. Indeed, the commitment that she gives to every performance is obvious; it’s also clearly an integral part of what makes the band such a success, particularly as a live act. If Jones brings such full immersion and energy to a small church performance, her time in front of a live music audience of fans is extraordinary.

Part of what makes Miss Sharon Jones! such a pleasure to watch is the pure delight that Jones takes in every milestone the band achieves. Outselling previous releases and making television appearances are always exciting. Jones never appears jaded or cynical about her success. One only has to see the happiness she exudes upon being asked to appear on Ellen and to dance alongside DeGeneres to understand that Jones continued to enjoy every new breakthrough in her career.

One of the threads that runs through the documentary is the closeness of the band. They’ve been working together and struggling for so long that they’re bonded to one another like family. They argue and laugh in familiar, intimate ways that speak to their long relationships and their commitment to one another. It’s a theme that crops up over and over but is made bittersweet when much of it revolves around Jones’ illness. Manager Alex Kadva, is especially close to Jones and their connection is clear when he’s there to listen to test results and prognoses alongside Jones.

In addition to Kadvan, seeing Jones interact with her bandmates, such as Gabriel Roth, bandleader and principal songwriter, Fernando Velez (in a charming deleted scene at his wedding), and David Guy, in a final performance with the Dap-Kings before joining The Roots’ Tonight Show band, is a joy. The affection is always obvious, even when they fight and tease one another. Apart from her bandmates, Jones’s relationships with Austen Holman, her assistant manager, and friend and nutritionist, Megan Holken offer revealing moments in the documentary. Holman and Holken’s emotional responses to Jones’ battle with cancer create some of the more vulnerable moments in the film.

Jones’ recent death has cast a particularly poignant light on Miss Sharon Jones! and its subject. Moments that were already affecting -- doctor’s visits, sweet moments with the band, and worries about getting ready to perform again -- take on an extra heartbreaking quality. Perhaps none more so than when Jones herself voices her own fears and doubts about her illness. Listening to her talk about how hard and long she’s worked for the success she’s finally earned, it seems especially cruel that her life would be cut short when she had so much more to share.

Kopple’s documentary accomplishes a great deal in shining a light on such a dynamic figure at such a difficult time. That the story ultimately ended so tragically only speaks to the power of Jones’s voice and the joy she took in achieving her dreams.

R.I.P., Miss Jones.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.