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Nothing keeps unstoppable singer off stage

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Sharon Jones was back giving the people what they want only months after finishing her final course of chemotherapy.

DAVE MARTIN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Sharon Jones was back giving the people what they want only months after finishing her final course of chemotherapy.

Sharon Jones has got her groove back.

The five-foot-nothing firecracker who fronts the incendiary funk/soul revivalists the Dap-Kings is making a triumphant North American victory lap in support of Give the People Want They Want -- an album she was scared she'd never perform live.

In 2013, Jones, 57, was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. Her label, Daptone Records, delayed the release of Give the People Want They Want, tour dates were scrapped and Jones began chemotherapy.

"That was hard. I didn't think that I had to have chemo," she recalls during a phone interview with the Free Press. "That meant seven or eight months out of work."

But Jones is a tough lady. Hell, she was a corrections officer at Rikers Island. She broke into the music biz at 45 with 2002's debut Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings after decades of being relegated to backup singing because she was "too black, too short, too fat and too old." Sharon Jones is nothing if not determined.

And now, she's back. She did her final chemo session on New Year's Eve; Give the People Want They Want -- her fifth full-length album with the Dap-Kings -- came out two weeks later to glowing reviews. By February, the Dap-Kings had hit the road.

As for Jones, she feels like she's home.

"It's good to be back on the road," she says. "I didn't think I was going to be here to be onstage to perform that album. The new songs feel good. Real good."

She's says she's taking it day by day, and her health is steadily improving.

"My hair is growing back -- the hair under my chin is, too," she adds with her rumble of a laugh. "I've gotten stronger. And I'll keep getting stronger."

Jones says she's been overwhelmed by the support she's received from her fans through what has been a difficult couple of years; she lost her mother, Ella Mae Price Jones, to cancer in 2012.

"All the positive energy from them -- it inspired me even more to return to the stage," she says. "It gave me strength."

And what a record to return to the stage on. Give the People Want They Want is timeless, paying no mind to trends. As a Pitchfork review pointed out, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' cameo as a wedding band in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street -- they cover the James Bond anthem Goldfinger -- serves as something of a metaphor for the group's career: "A movie where a 21st-century band plays 1960s music in a scene set in the early '90s -- that's the context they found themselves in, and there are few better ways to show off just how unindebted to time they are."

Indeed, the songs on Give the People What They Want sound classic without feeling dated; the Dap-Kings are true students of their genre. And, as always, Jones's great big voice is at once rich, warm, raw and soulful. Someone give this band a Grammy, already.

For Jones, several songs have new resonance.

"The album was done before I got sick. Last year, when it was supposed to come out, Retreat! was released as a single. When I sing it now, it has a different meaning. It's like I'm telling cancer to retreat. Get Up and Get Out also changed. Now I'm telling the cancer to get up and get out."

Jones says she finds a great deal of strength in her music and her faith -- but ultimately, she relies on herself.

"You have to find that strength in yourself -- you can't depend on someone to lift you up," she says. "I've always been the type of person."

Somehow, that doesn't come as a surprise.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 C3

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