Whether she’s singing or just talking on the phone, Sharon Jones’s voice is still mighty and full of life.
The throwback-soul songstress, 59, isn’t afraid to say whatever is on her mind, especially when the subject comes to living in South Carolina. Although she was born in Augusta, Ga., and has lived most of her life in New York, she now calls North Augusta, S.C., her home. So, of course, Jones has some choice words about the Confederate flag, which was recently taken down from the Capitol lawn.
“I was born there in the ’50s, so I was there with segregation,” remembers Jones, calling from Austin. “I knew what that flag stood for, which I didn’t like. Whenever I saw that flag, I would go the other way. If I was going to go to a restaurant and they have a Confederate flag hanging out, I wouldn’t even go in that restaurant, OK.
“I never wanted to talk about it because I knew what that flag meant,” she continues. “To me, that flag means KKK. It doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, we’re American and we’re Southerners, and that flag represents us!’ No! The American flag represents Southerners and everyone else. That flag was the KKK flag. If they wanna use it and whatever they wanna use it for, to prove we went through the Civil War and all of that, put it in a museum.”
While Jones didn’t mean to get on her soapbox during this convo, it seems the last thing she wants to do in her life now is hold things back – especially after these last two years, during which she first battled bile duct cancer, then Stage 2 pancreatic cancer.
“It was so weird how I found out about it, because I had been sick for months, and noticing changes,” she remembers. “Like, my eyes – they were glowing. I mean, there was no white in my eyes. It was just yellow.”
She went back and forth to doctors in both New York and South Carolina. But even after she was put on chemotherapy for six months, the stage was still calling her. “I’ve been actually going ever since January of 2014,” she says, adding that she recently had another health scare. “Every six months, I have to go for an MRI. And so, when I went in December, they saw something on my liver. And I had to go in January and have it removed…. Every six months, this is what I have to do.”
With all this happening in her life, Jones also managed to record an album with her band, the Dap-Kings. Last year, Jones and her boys released their sixth album, the aptly titled “Give the People What They Want,” which was nominated for Best R&B Album at this year’s Grammys, the band’s first-ever Grammy nod. They were also handpicked by husband-and-wife blues rockers Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks to join them as part of the Wheels of Soul 2015 Summer Tour, which will make a stop in Cary Saturday night.
Basically, Sharon Jones refuses to let anything – whether it’s racism or cancer – take her down. “It comes from just being out here so long and being a true musician, really, truly loving what you’re doing,” she says. “And, then, to have these fans and these young people out here that was behind me when I was sick or I was home, and all I got was nothing but well-wishes, wishing me the best, sending me prayers and positive energy. And all that was part of what helps me to keep going.”
As much as Jones has successfully persevered both in music and in living, she knows she can’t do this forever. “I don’t want to be, like, in my 70s or my 60s and I’m still trying to barely make it onstage,” she says. “I just want to do it until I’m comfortable, you know.”
She already has a plan all lined up when she’s retired from performing. “My next step would be to go find someone, some young soul singers out here, and produce somebody. Do something that’s gonna keep this legacy of soul music alive today.”
What: Wheels of Soul 2015 Summer Tour, with Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Doyle Bramhall II
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary
Info: 919-462-2025 or boothamphitheatre.com