Meet Sharon Jones!


By John Black

3 ½ stars

“In the early 1980s, Sharon Jones as told she was too dark and too short to be a music star.”

Hearing such a description in a voiceover while you watch footage of the fiery Jones lead her legendary soul band, the Dap Kings, through a couple of songs in concert  you can’t help but want to track down the music executive who first said it to her and make them eat their words. The fact is that she’s too strong and too talented to be denied, as more than 30 years on the road – not to mention a Grammy nomination – have proved.

As powerful as she is when performing, however, Jones’ shows herself to be a true champion when she battles pancreatic cancer, a battle covered in gripping detail in Barbara Kopple’s fascinating new documentary, Miss Sharon Jones.

The film seems to start rather abruptly, dropping us into Jones’ world like a kid being thrown into a pond and told to swim. We watch her in concert, passionately performing in front of what looks like a sizable crowd, while the narration keeps telling us how unlikely it is for her having a career. Luckily, Jones’ charisma carries you over any imbalance between what you hear and what you see as the film gradually finds the right pace to tell the story.

And what a story it is. Sharon Jones is quite the character, a lightning bolt on stage who likes to relax by fishing while smoking a cigar. Like the singer, the film is multi-faceted in terms of storytelling. You follow Jones on her journey through chemotherapy and the fear that the disease ultimately will extinguish the spark that drives her artistically. You also follow Jones as she leads the Dap Kigs through the somewhat tense recording session that will result in their most acclaimed album yet, the Grammy nominated Give the People What They Want.

Throughout it all, Kopple weaves in interview with the band, with friends and family, physicians and just about everybody else who Jones sees through her journey to beat cancer and return to the stage. While some of the interviews seem less important than others, they all combine to give the audience a fuller picture of Jones both on and off stage.

By the time the film ends, two things will happen. You’ll have a deeper appreciation of the human spirit as it fights to stay alive and continue, and you’ll be spending a lot of money buying recordings of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.