AFP | AFP Although she's probably received her share of thank you letters from…
- Posted on Dec 22nd 2010 3:30PM by James Sullivan
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'Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects,' as the estimable, late-blooming performer sang this week on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.' Having released four successful albums with her Brooklyn-based band the Dap-Kings, the soul revivalist has come a long way from the odd jobs she was obliged to take when her career was going nowhere. Just back from touring Europe and Australia, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings play holiday shows with New Orleans great Allen Toussaint, Dec. 30-31 at the Best Buy Theater in New York's Times Square.
Sharon Lafaye Jones was the youngest of six kids -- three boys, three girls. Her parents split up when the baby was young, and her mother moved the children to New York. Jones got her first taste of the stage singing 'Silent Night,' dressed as an angel, in a church in Augusta on a trip to see her father.
Born in 1956, she was old enough to experience firsthand the rise of Motown and classic soul, followed by the disco era. Beginning in the 1970s, she found session work as a backup singer on funk, disco and blues records, but the opportunity to lead her own band eluded her.
"They told me I was too dark, too fat and too black," as she told DailyComet.com. "Then I turned 25 and I was too old." She gave up her dream of a career in music and took work as a corrections officer at Rikers Island jail. She also worked as an armored car guard, and she moved back in with her mother to help care for an ailing brother (who died in 2006).
Finally, at the age of 40, when plenty of singers are considering whether to keep making music into middle age and beyond, Jones was "discovered" when she auditioned for a group called the Soul Providers. They were looking for three backup singers for veteran funk singer Lee Fields; Jones sang all three parts in the studio.
Released in 2001, five years after the Fields session, the first album by Jones and the Dap-Kings was made in desperation: After spending a summer residency at a club in Barcelona, the band was broke, so they pressed a few hundred copies of 'Dap-Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.' The album was a surprise success that put the band front and center of the soul revival that would become a defining style in the new decade. (The Dap-Kings, of course, would make significant contributions to Amy Winehouse's blockbuster 'Back to Black' album.)
Today, in addition to the growing demand for her own band, Jones has collaborated with an eclectic mix of fellow performers, from Michael Bublé and Phish to Lou Reed and They Might Be Giants. Still promoting their fourth album, the aptly titled 'I Learned the Hard Way,' Jones and the Dap-Kings have just released a limited-edition box of the album's songs, plus bonus tracks, all on 45rpm singles. She may be a throwback, but Sharon Jones keeps pushing ahead.