Sharon Jones: Rocking Out at 58
Photo: Paul McgeiverWhen she was in her twenties,
Sharon Jones was told by one Sony executive that she was “too old, too fat, too short, and too black” to make it. Now, at 58, the soul singer’s career is soaring. She teamed up with the funk and soul band The Dap-Kings nearly 20 years ago and they’ve been touring and recording ever since. Rolling Stone’s dubbed them a national treasure and Jones’ latest album, Give The People What They Want, has been earning rave reviews. After battling cancer last year, this year she’s stronger and feistier than ever. She called us from Italy, where she was mid-European tour with the Kings, to talk about why she refused to bleach her skin and share some words of wisdom for mid-life dreamers.
On starting at 40: In my twenties, I was trying to do the pop stuff, but I wasn’t making it. So I just went on and did what I had to do. But when I got to 40, The Dap-Kings were doing the type of music that I could really sing. It wasn’t pop, it wasn’t some club hip-hop—it was better. It was just my time.
On music industry pressure: When I was younger they didn’t accept me. I remember one producer from Sony Records told me I was too old, too short, too fat, too black. He told me to go and buy some bleach and bleach my skin. I looked at him and said, ‘Yeah, right.’ But I didn’t. That’s something I never did.
On embracing yourself: When that happened I went to my mom and she said, ‘You know you’re a beautiful black woman, don’t you let anyone ever change that.’ It’s like that James Brown song, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and Proud.” That record was an important part of me being a very dark skinned woman. I accepted and embraced my blackness. I looked in the mirror and said, “There’s nothing ugly about me, I’m a beautiful black woman.” You have to look and see that in yourself, and that’s all I see in my life right now. I think I’m a beautiful young woman. I just embrace who I am.
On her onstage persona: If you were to walk past me in the street, you wouldn’t even know me. I don’t wear makeup! You won’t see me in a dress or heels [when not performing]. One time this person told a fan that I was in town. The fan came up with their camera and was like, “Where is she?” And I was like ‘Who?’ He said, “Sharon Jones!” looking around. And I said ‘Right here!’ He couldn’t believe I wasn’t dressed up. I said, ‘Please! You don’t want a picture of me? This is how I look! I’m not on stage. This is me every day. You wanna see me all glammy glamour, makeup and everything, you catch me on stage. Other than that, when you see me, this is who I am.’
On wardrobe malfunctions: I like a little sparkly. I don’t like too much of my boobs hanging out; I don’t like dresses too short, too tight, or showing my tail. When I wear a dress, I have to be comfortable, because I have to move around. I can’t have a wardrobe malfunction!