Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings have just released a new album, Give The People What They Want. She speaks with JOSHUA KLOKE about her battle with cancer and the journey ahead from here.
To say that it’s been a long road Sharon Jones has had to travel to get to the release of Give The People What They Want, her sixth album, would be an incredible understatement.
It would be one thing to note that the esteemed soul singer did not release her first solo record until the age of 46. That fact would serve as testament enough to the drive Jones has employed throughout her career to not let her dreams perish. Yet when the now 57-year-old singer was diagnosed with bile duct cancer midway through 2013, many believed Jones had sung her last note onstage. Even Jones herself believed she could not be saved after receiving the original diagnosis.
“There was no music on my mind,” she says of the time. “I didn’t sing throughout the summer while I was going through treatment.” While Give The People What They Want was nearly complete at the time of the diagnosis, the release was delayed to accommodate Jones and her health. With the record now set to be released, Jones admits that she feels “great” and that it was “upsetting” when the record wasn’t released as it was originally supposed to in August.
Still, Jones has a long road ahead of her before she begins touring confidently full-time again and delivers the legendarily energetic live show she’s built a name for herself upon.
“It’s going to be a happy new year, but I think I’ll only be really happy when my hair starts coming back and when my hands, face and nose stop showing the effects of the chemo. But until then it’ll be a struggle.
“Every time I look at myself I feel a little better, though. It is what it is.”
Jones sounded tired throughout our conversation and spoke often of the continuing treatment she’ll have to endure to beat the cancer and return to the stage. She spoke softly and answered questions in short bursts, parcelling the little energy she did have.
For a woman whose power onstage emerges from a seemingly endless supply of raw soul, it was at times terrifying to hear Jones sound so close to defeat. I asked Jones if the new record and possible touring has afforded her a “new lease on life” though she wasn’t ready to agree with any grand, affirming statements.
“I’m not excited just yet,” she replied. “In January when I’m able to start working out again and get back on the treadmill and start working my arms then I’ll know if I’m ready or not. But right now, honestly, it’s pretty scary. It is what it is. I have to be truthful to myself.”
She repeated this phrase often throughout our conversation: “It is what it is,” as if she came to terms with the cancer much long ago. She utilises a sense of realism regarding the process of returning to the stage that only someone who has weathered many other personal storms could. While the cancer may have been one of the worst blows her career has ever been delivered, Jones is still nothing if not incredibly honest.
“I didn’t want to go back onstage but I need to let my fans see who I am,” she says. “This is me now. I want to think of my fans, that’s been a positive and that has kept me going.”
Coming to terms with the cancer and actually beating it before continuing to sing are two different scenarios altogether. So much so that it became difficult for Jones herself to imagine getting back onstage.
“What had to be done to my body, from my lungs to my gall bladder, it made it impossible to sing. It took months for me to even be able to eat right. I felt such pain trying to digest food.” Still, Jones sees hope.
“But now I’ve got just three more treatments and then I’ll be done,” she says, and the smile she likely has on the other end of the line is near palpable.
Considering how long it took for the world to be turned onto the ferocious power of Sharon Jones, it should then come as no surprise that the drive she used to succeed has also helped her through her difficult struggles with cancer. No part of her wanted Give The People What They Want to be the last Sharon Jones offered the world.
“I actually thought this was going to be my last record,” she says, frankly. “I thought I was going to die and I thought people would be sad about this record because it would be my last one. People might say, ‘This is her last album, blah blah blah’, and I didn’t want that.”
And so, with a will as strong as the performances she’s become renowned for, Sharon Jones came to terms with the cancer and became determined to defeat it. And Give The People What They Want was waiting in the wings all along. It will serve as a powerful reminder of just how strong that will is.
“For me,” she says, it’s a reminder that I’m not gone. I’m not dead.”