AT 56, Sharon Jones is living a fairytale.
She is the powerhouse frontwoman of eight-piece New York soul/funk group the Dap-Kings who spent years doing the hard yards, working jobs ranging from a corrections officer to a dental assistant, until finally finding a break four decades into her life.
It was in 1996 during a stint as a security guard that Jones, who was told by record label executives two decades earlier she was ‘‘too black, too fat, too short, and too old’’ to be a star, that she met the Dap-Kings (then known as The Soul Providers). They brought her in for backing vocals on an album of instrumentals and vocal collaborations with soul great Lee Fields, but soon realised her big, brassy voice should be up front.
Since releasing the debut LP, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, in 2001 the band has released a further four albums through indie label Daptone Records.
‘‘When I met the guys from Daptone Records they was just some young guys trying find people to put a voice on these records they were making,’’ Jones said.
‘‘They needed someone to sing behind Lee Fields, so I went into do some background for that and I just fit right in on what they were looking for.’’
Regarded as leaders of the funk/soul revival, the Dap-Kings are the house band at Daptone Records and recorded for the likes of Al Green, Robbie Williams and, perhaps most notably, Amy Winehouse’s album Back to Black.
In the decades it took Jones to find her place in the spotlight, she sang in a wedding band for almost 20 years and, as she admits in a whisper, still does the occasional wedding gig, now with the Dap-Kings.
‘‘They’re not yo’ average wedding because we do what we do, mmm hmmm,’’ Jones said with a laugh.
Georgia-born, New York-raised Jones always sang, starting out in the gospel church and singing along to stars of the golden era of soul music – Mary Wells, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and James Brown.
Looking back, Jones can’t think of a better time for music.
‘‘Oh, man! Comin’ up I listened to a lot because I was at the era when soul music was changing over and becoming more funk,’’ she said.
‘‘In ’66, I was 10 years old! James Brown comin’ up from Georgia – that’s my hometown!
‘‘But also I had a big influence from Motown and Stax Records.
Music offered an escape for Jones whose parents split early on (her father died when she was 12) and who can remember growing up in the era of racial segregation.
‘‘My life was hard, you know, we were really poor,’’ Jones said.
‘‘I was around when they had black and white [segregation]. You couldn’t drink outta this fountain, I couldn’t go in the restaurant, we had to go in the back door. You know, mmmm hmmm, it’s not that long ago and people don’t realise that.’’
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings return to Australia next month to perform at Peats Ridge Festival, followed by a run of headline shows including the Sydney Opera House.
Anyone who has seen Jones live can attest that, at 56, she pours her heart and soul into a performance.
‘‘That’s what God give me because to have that energy at 56, you know, that’s my blessing.
‘‘Sometimes I be so hurtin’, I be so tired and feel like I just can’t go on but when I’m standing backstage at that crowd starts screaming, everything goes away.’’
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform at Peats Ridge Festival, Glenworth Valley on December 31. For full line-up details and tickets, visit peatsridgefestival.com.au.