That’s right: don’t listen to em! All the people who tell not to do what your heart tells you, what you really would like to do with yourself, who you would like to love, where you would like to live, whatever impractical dreams you scheme about in your head: they’re all wrong.
Don’t let the naysayers bring you down: its just the small, complacent inadequacies in their own heads that are threatened by your larger than life dreams. Some people’s light and energy is just too bright for the other gray, boring denizens of this world. It either burns their eyes, or they’re just too blind to see anything at all…
Take Miss Sharon Jones for instance. Told by many a music agent that she was “too short, too fat, too black and too old” to be a successful recording artist, Sharon Jones proved the petty doubters all wrong and had the last laugh in the end. She started her music career at 40(!), and throughout the course of 20 years of hard work achieved fame, toured the world and was even nominated for a Grammy.
Despite the odds stacked against her: her race, her non-Beyonce looks, her age, even her height, Sharon Jones just seemed to make it happen for herself anyway. And I don’t doubt for a New York second there wasn’t a lot of sweat, touring, travel, late nights, financial setbacks and uncomfortable accommodation in fleabag motels along the way. But the bad thoughts, the negativity, the mental blocks that tell us we’re no good, or that we can’t, well, just let Miss Jones show you how it’s done- despite even the worst of odds.
Born in Augusta, Georgia (coincidentally her idol James Brown’s childhood home), Jones grew up with a ingrained love of music. But by her teens, her mother packed up stakes and moved Jones and her siblings to New York to get away from an abusive marriage. There, Jones continued to sing in her local church choir alongside her sister.
By the time she became an adult in the 70s, Jones was performing in numerous funk bands, wedding gigs and serving as a backup singer in studio recording sessions. But a true breakthrough in the music business frustratingly eluded her. By her thirties, she had left the music dream behind and found herself working as an armoured car guard for Wells Fargo, as well as Corrections Officer at Rikers Island prison.
Now, I don’t know about you, but to be a guard at one of the toughest and largest holding units in the country is not a job for weaklings or the easily intimidated. Her band, The Dap-Kings, often introduced Sharon Jones onstage as “110 Pounds of Soul Excitement”. I’m 170 pounds and know damn well I wouldn’t last a fucking day in Rikers Island.
So we can safely assume, that this lady was tough as nails and didn’t back down from a fight. In fact, she purportedly made her first solo recordings in the studio still in uniform with her gun belt attached to her waist.
However, single by single, album by album, and tour by tour, Jones slowly persevered and started to make a name for herself as one the preeminent stars in a rising New York-based 60s Soul revival. Her incendiary live performances, kicking her high heels off and dancing barefoot onstage like a dervish, led some to dub her the “Female James Brown”.
But bad news would eventually strike, Sharon was diagnosed with Stage II Pancreatic cancer in 2013, leading her to take a year off of recording and touring. By 2015, the cancer was in remission and she was back performing again, but chemotherapy had left her completely bald. However, clearly not being one to let obstacles hold her back, she performed for her fans anyway. In her words, “When I walk out [onstage], whatever pain is gone… You forget about everything. There is no cancer. There is no sickness. You’re just floating, looking in their faces and hearing them scream. That’s all that is to me.”
Sadly, Sharon’s indomitable spirit and boundless positivity, couldn’t defeat the illness that slowly ended her life in 2016 at the age of 60 (and I’m seriously disappointed I didn’t get to see her perform live). In a crummy year for great musical icons passing, she was perhaps a lot lesser known than Prince or David Bowie, but certainly had the most inspiring personal story.
Even though she died too young, and I think she hadn’t even reached the peak of possible success that she could have, Sharon Jones stands as a testament to someone who made IT happen. Those last 20 years of her life must have been the most satisfying as she went from an armed security guard who the music industry rejected to performing onstage for millions. Not too damn shabby if I may say so myself. So, if Sharon Jones can do it, maybe you can too.