PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.