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Sharon Jones is a force to be reckoned with. Those who were at Rock the Garden in June 2010, the last time Jones was in town, might recall her straight-up stealing the show from the headlining MGMT. Her bring-it-on performing style easily wins crowds over, turning even the most adamant introverts into dancing kings and queens. Jones is, after all, the Queen of Funk, who, with her nine-person backing band, the Dap-Kings, has been spearheading the funkadelic soul revival in music for a decade.
Minneapolis has a special little place in Jones's heart, it would seem. "Oh yeah, yes, Rock the Garden," she exclaims during our interview. "Nice crowd, really nice crowd. Y'all made us feel so welcome. We love Minneapolis. Binky, our guitarist, he's from Minneapolis. We love it there, y'all know how to have fun."
Jones has a way of talking like she is not having a phone conversation, but rather sitting next to you on a porch in South Carolina (where she is taking the call), drinking iced tea and laughing. I like to imagine it this way, anyway, as I ask Jones about that title, "Queen of Funk," which has been used by various blogs and media outlets. How does she feel about all this success?
"You know, right now it's still getting into me," she says, starting slowly. "I don't feel that big. I don't feel like a big celebrity. I'm just trying to get used to this. I've been going at it so long, I'm just so grateful.... I don't feel like it's all about me." She pauses, and then the words start tumbling out of her—from her early involvement in the '60s and '70s as a gospel singer and backing vocalist, to her variety of just-for-the-paycheck day-job stints, to the heartbreak in her music, her story, her life so far, and what success has really meant.
"My goal was always to get my mom a home and get out of the projects," she says with a stony note of determination in her voice, like it was a mantra she had been repeating to herself. "I moved in with my mom in 2000, and I had to give up my nine-to-five job because I was trying to make it in the business, we were doing all sorts of touring, we were in Europe...and I had a relationship." Her story spins into almost-tangents that all spiral out to the same ending. "I feel like we're just talkin', you know what I mean?" she says without waiting for a response, and for 20 minutes, Sharon Jones seemed like an old girlfriend, catching up on life.
"Anyway, so this man, he's how I met the Dap-Kings, actually, through him," she says. "We dated for a year, and he gave me an engagement ring from his father's side.... And then the next thing I know, he's messing around with this entertainment lawyer. And I just couldn't believe it. We'd been together for years, you know?" Her voice is heavy with disappointment.
"I asked him what he expected me to do—I mean, we were living together. You know what he said to me? 'Move back to the projects with your mother.' I wanted to kill him," Jones deadpanned. "But I didn't. I kept my dignity, you know. I just gave him back his ring...and I went back to my mom's house. And I've worked hard, I've put in my time. And I finally got my mom a house, got out of the projects... and now my next goal is to get me a house."
This train of thought is very particular to the character of Sharon Jones and the way she perceives the bubble of fame she now finds herself in. This is a woman who, at 55 years old, has finally achieved the musical success that she sought in her teens and twenties, who takes interviews on her direct line without a connecting operator, who readily hands out her personal email address. "This is just what I've been doing," Jones says, indifferent when she talks about celebrity. And from the sound of things, it's what she'll be doing for quite a long time.
SHARON JONES performs with Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears on TUESDAY, MAY 17, at the STATE THEATRE; 612.339.7007