Sharon Jones, lead singer of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, has died. She was 60.
Jones died after a "heroic battle against pancreatic cancer," reads a message on the band's website. "She was surrounded by her loved ones, including the Dap-Kings," her high-voltage backing band.
The internationally renowned R&B and funk songstress was known for her big, sultry voice and boisterous live shows, chock full of shimmying, eye-popping costumes and an authenticity matched by few other performers.
She was a passionate advocate for soul music.
Worked as a prison guard
Born in North Augusta, S.C., Jones moved to Brooklyn as a child. She began making music in the 1970s — singing gospel music in church and performing occasionally as a backup singer — but it wasn't until 30 years later that her career took off.
In the interim, she worked as an armoured car attendant and a prison guard at Rikers Island, New York City's notorious jail.
"They watch you and you watch them. They ask you questions just to see if you're afraid," she said of her time with the inmates during an interview on CBC Radio's Definitely Not The Opera in 2015. "So, I've learned that you never show the fear."
After she told her inmates she was a singer, they wanted songs from her. She said the inmates once refused to go into their cells, demanding she first sing Whitney Houston's Greatest Love Of All. After a bit of hesitation, she did it.
"I think that's one thing in there — they always say my word is bond. So, I guess they kept their words, and I kept my word. I sang for them and they locked up."
Her big break came relatively late, at the age of 40, when Jones got the chance to sing backup on a session with soul singer Lee Fields. That led to her fronting her own band, the Dap-Kings.
In 2002, they put out their first album, Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, blazing the trail of a 21st-century soul revival.
'I just learned life is short'
Jones was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer in 2013. The group promptly shelved an album they were working on, cancelled tours and rallied behind their leading lady as she underwent chemotherapy treatment.
But Jones went into remission nine months later and the doctors gave her permission to go back out on the road. She burst back onto the music scene with a 2014 Grammy Award nomination for her album Give the People What They Want and an album of holiday classics called It's A Holiday Soul Party!
Shortly after her return, she had a frank conversation about her battle with cancer on CBC Radio's q.
"I just learned that life is short. You can go anytime," she said in the May 2014 interview.
"I always have a thing whenever I get on the stage, each time I perform, that could be my last night. You know what I'm saying? So I'm going to give you everything I got that night because tomorrow's not promised."
She spoke excitedly about soul music and its influence on the mainstream music industry.
"Soul music is the backbone. I mean, every rapper out here is rapping because of some soul music that they heard," she said. "As for me, it's what I can sing. I don't want to be a pop singer."
"That's my joy. Music is my joy. My happiness."
'I want to sing. I want to do it till I can't do it'
Her struggle and return to the stage were chronicled in the critically acclaimed 2015 documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In the Q&A session following the film's premiere, Jones revealed her cancer had returned.
By the time the film started playing in theatres the following year, she was receiving radiation treatment and had to sit out a planned summer European tour.
"But my fans, they understand," she told CBC Music in August 2016. "As soon as I get up on my feet, I got something to look forward to. I don't want to lay down and just wait for my body to get to the point where I can't do anything.
"While I got my strength, I want to live my life. I want to sing. I want to do it till I can't do it."