Sharon Jones' success has been a long time coming. At 58, the soul singer received her first Grammy nomination this year. But working so hard for so long, Jones doesn't take her success for granted.
While she's been singing since childhood and recording for 20 years, Jones' passionate soul tunes only started to receive wider attention with her group's first release as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings in 2002, Dap Dippin'. Before that, Jones had worked as a backing singer and in other jobs, including years as a corrections officer. The Grammy nomination finally came for the 2014 album Give the People What They Want.
"You know, I didn't expect it, because I always feel that the R&B category is like pop, I never thought that I'd be the one chosen for anything because they don't have a category that fits it, there should be a soul category," Jones says of her Grammy nomination. "What they call R&B is not soul—it's pop— but it is such a privilege to even have that to put to my name."
Jones finds music categories somewhat arbitrary, but wishes the Grammies would add a soul category, rather than the current use of "R&B" as a catchall term. "Definitely I would love to see that before I retire or stop singing," she says, laughing.
Jones' music also gets labelled as "retro." "They gotta call me what they gotta call me," she says, "but yeah, to me, the definition for 'retro' is some young person trying to imitate an older one. Maybe someone could imitate me. Then they could be retro."
Though her name had become widely known even before the nomination, Jones is excited about the potential opportunities it can bring: "With the Grammy nominee name up front, you never know who's just gonna call our manager and say, 'Hey, we want Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings,'" she says.
Jones is conscious of having achieved success later in life. Her last album came on the heels of a cancer diagnosis in 2013, and though she's recovered, she knows time is precious. "I keep looking forward and hoping I get a lot of stuff in these next few years so I can feel like I've done something and feel pretty good by the time I decide I want to slow down. Because you know, I see myself on the stage and I really work hard, and I don't see how in the world I can be doing that at 60-something, when I get to a certain age, you know what I mean?"
Jones shows few signs of slowing down—after touring most of last year and having tour dates lined up all summer, she's working on a demo for a commercial, and planning the releases of a Christmas album coming out this fall and a new Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings album next year. She talks about watching younger musicians on stage: "I'm like, 'They don't work hard, I work hard!' And I see why they call me the hardest-working woman in show business."
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Wednesday, July 8 at 8:30pm
Jazz Fest Tent, Lower Water and Salter Streets