MISS SHARON JONES!

Pasatiempo - - TERRELL’S TUNE-UP - Miss Sharon Jones! Ellen, Miss Sharon Jones! Miss Sharon Jones!

Even be­fore soul singer Sharon Jones’ tri­umph over can­cer, her story was one of the most in­spir­ing tales in mod­ern pop­u­lar mu­sic. First, it’s the story of tal­ent and de­ter­mi­na­tion over­com­ing show-biz shal­low­ness. When she au­di­tioned for Sony Records back in the 1980s, some cretinous ex­ec­u­tive re­jected her, telling the young singer she was too black, too fat, too short, and too old. That was a set­back for cer­tain. She had to work at a series of day jobs — in­clud­ing as a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer at Rik­ers Is­land — be­fore she be­gan her record­ing ca­reer. Jones was in her for­ties when she re­leased her first al­bum, in 2002, on the mu­si­cianowned Dap­tone Records. The fact that she built a re­spectable ca­reer with mil­lions of fans and crit­i­cally ac­claimed work — with­out the help of a ma­jor record la­bel or com­mer­cial ra­dio — is heart­en­ing in it­self.

So it’s only log­i­cal that Jones’ bat­tle against can­cer would also be an in­spi­ra­tional story — and that’s the main fo­cus of Bar­bara Kop­ple’s doc­u­men­tary

In 2013, Jones was di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer. This was be­fore the re­lease of her al­bum Give the Peo­ple What They Want. After a brief mon­tage of mu­sic clips and bi­o­graph­i­cal nar­ra­tive, one of the first scenes of the doc­u­men­tary shows Jones in a bar­ber shop get­ting her head shaved. After that, she tries on var­i­ous wigs — one, she jokes, makes her look like Tina Turner, another like Oprah. But that’s about the last time we see her in a wig. Dur­ing her chemo treat­ments, she prefers to be de­fi­antly bald.

Not sur­pris­ingly, this movie is not al­ways pleas­ant. We see Jones at her highs — like when she finds out she’s booked for an ap­pear­ance on one of her fa­vorite TV talk shows. And we see her lows, such as the scene where she lashes out at her band, the Dap-Kings, be­cause their Thanks­giv­ing din­ner was can­celed. One of the most mov­ing scenes is an in­ter­view in which Jones, full of shame, talks about a low point when she wrong­fully ac­cused her loyal, long­time man­ager Alex Kad­van of be­ing more wor­ried about the money the band was los­ing than about her health.

But the truth is that Jones’ can­cer was a huge fi­nan­cial strain on the Dap-Kings and oth­ers who work with her — all of whom de­pend on per­form­ing with Jones to make a liv­ing. For starters, the band’s tour was can­celed the sum­mer she was di­ag­nosed. Dap-King guitarist Binky Grip­tite tells how the news of Jones’ con­di­tion came right after he and his wife de­cided to split. All at once he re­al­ized he was “di­vorced, laid off, and my friend had can­cer.” And bassist Gabe Roth tells how a cou­ple of banks balked at re­fi­nanc­ing his home after they read about Jones’ ill­ness. the en­er­getic, con­fi­dent Jones at these mo­ments of weak­ness, ex­haus­tion, and frus­tra­tion is im­por­tant in un­der­stand­ing the singer.

Kop­ple in­ter­sperses bits of Jones’ bi­og­ra­phy into the film. We hear Roth talk about how back in the ’90s, he and Jones them­selves re­mod­eled the build­ing that would be­come Dap­tone Records, even do­ing the elec­tri­cal wiring them­selves. The film takes us to North Au­gusta, South Carolina, where Jones was raised, along with nearby Au­gusta, Ge­or­gia, where Jones tours a mu­seum ded­i­cated to another fa­mous mu­si­cian from the area, James Brown. And Jones talks about grow­ing up in the South dur­ing seg­re­ga­tion, re­mem­ber­ing how a cruel shop­keeper taught a par­rot to say racist slurs any­time a black child en­tered the store.

And there are pow­er­ful mu­si­cal mo­ments in this film. At one point, Kop­ple lit­er­ally takes us to church. Jones sings a mighty ver­sion of the old hymn “His Eye is on the Spar­row” (best known for ver­sions by Ethel Waters and Ma­halia Jack­son). Jones is winded by the end of the song, but then again, it also has a breath­tak­ing ef­fect for those of us who are lis­ten­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, this song is not on the sound­track al­bum for the movie.

We see Jones back­stage at New York’s Bea­con Theatre, where she kicked off her come­back tour in Fe­bru­ary 2014 — a tour that in­cluded a sold-out show at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in Santa Fe. As guitarist Grip­tite goes through his soul-show spiel an­nounc­ing her en­trance, we see Jones’ stage fright poignantly il­lus­trated by her hand shak­ing un­con­trol­lably as she grips a pa­per cup. But only sec­onds later, she walks on­stage and trans­forms into the su­per­heroine her fans know best, vis­i­bly soak­ing up the ap­plause, the cheers, and the love.

Spoiler alert: has a happy end­ing, in which Jones is can­cer-free and the Dap-Kings are again go­ing strong. How­ever, after the film was made, the can­cer re­turned. Jones had to re­sume chemo treat­ments last year. Early last month, she was forced to can­cel a Euro­pean tour. “Sharon is do­ing well, but must un­dergo a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure re­lated to her can­cer and the re­cov­ery time will con­flict with these Euro­pean dates,” her web­site says. How­ever, it also says that an Amer­i­can tour sched­uled to be­gin this month will go on.

opens Fri­day, Sept. 9, at The Screen on the cam­pus of Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign, 1600 St. Michael’s Drive.

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