Music News

Sharon Jones' Career Could Be a Classic Hollywood Story

Over the years, Hollywood has produced a lot of great biopics of famous musicians. You know the titles: Ray, What's Love Got to Do with It, Walk the Line, The Doors, etc.

Some bright, young Hollywood screenwriter ought to start working up a script treatment on Sharon Jones.

Sure, Sharon Jones, lead singer of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, may not necessarily have the fame and legacy of a Ray Charles or Johnny Cash — yet — but her story is pretty damned interesting.

All the ingredients are there: engaging characters, distinctive settings, adversity, and, of course, lots of great music.

The film would invariably open in Augusta, Georgia, where we would see a young Sharon Jones and her brothers imitating James Brown — who, of course, is also from Augusta. Later, we'd see a slightly older actress portraying Jones singing in the church choir. Flash-forward a few years to Jones — now in Brooklyn, where she is a session backup singer on numerous gospel, soul, blues and disco recordings — who often would go uncredited for her work. Eventually, Jones would be told (I picture Adrien Brody as the evil music producer) that she was too short, too heavy, and too black to be a star.

As the film enters its second act, we would see Jones left with few options as a musician and forced to take various day jobs to support herself, the most interesting of which is as a corrections officer at the notorious Rikers Island. Surely, there is montage in here somewhere.

Just when things would start to look their bleakest, opportunity would knock. In 1996, she would be hired by Gabriel "Bosco Mann" Roth and Philip Lehman to do some session backing for funk legend Lee Fields. Roth and Lehman would be so impressed by Jones' abilities that they would ask her to record a few solo tracks that eventually would be released on an album by the soon-to-be-defunct Soul Providers.

Roth would go on to form Desco Records, on which Jones would release several singles, earning notoriety among soul and funk enthusiasts. Then, Roth would form The Dap-Kings to be Jones' backing band and Daptone Records to release her stuff. She finally would get attention from outside the tight-knit circle of soul aficionados.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are largely credited — along with Amy Winehouse, who had backing on several tracks from The Dap-Kings on her Back to Black album — with launching a funk/soul revival. Starting in 2002 with the album Dap Dippin', the group would release four studio albums, including their latest, I Learned the Hard Way, which would debut at number 15 on the Billboard 200. It would be a true feel-good story.

Now in her mid-50s, Jones has finally earned the success she tried so hard to achieve during the '70s and early '80s. Maybe that's what gives her records that authentically late-'70s soul sound so many artists try to emulate now. But that's not to say they make new music that sounds old. Pretty much the opposite, actually, as her group has a unique ability to make old sound new again.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are scheduled to perform at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend, and if there's a venue in Phoenix worth of the silver screen, this is it. Actually, it would be a nice place to end the flick, maybe transposing shots of Jones with footage of her old hometown hero, The Godfather of Soul himself, playing there in 1997.

The final song would be sung, the film would fade to black as the happy crowd gave a standing ovation. Roll credits.

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Michael Escoto