When Sharon Jones sings with her band, The Dap Kings, her voice and her tremendous energy shine. It is evident that she enjoys performing as much as her fans enjoy her. And anyone who doesn’t know this dynamo of a singer will likely be a fan after seeing Barbara Kopple’s rousing documentary, Miss Sharon Jones!
The film specifically does not chronicle how or why it took Jones decades to have the modest level of success she does. Jones says, quite candidly, she never wanted to be a star, but she always wanted to be a singer. She also would like to win a Grammy. Instead, Kopple traces how—at the peak of her career—Jones was diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. Going from the stage to an extended stay in her holistic nutritionist friend Megan Holken’s house, Jones undergoes months of chemotherapy to eradicate the cancer. Kopple films Jones’ ups and downs, from her getting her hair cut (an emotional moment), to her performing in a church (another emotional moment), to a tear-filled toast during a dinner with her band (yet another emotional moment). While Jones fills her days watching daytime TV, she is anxious to get back to work; the band has a tour scheduled, so she needs to recover.
Miss Sharon Jones! spends a considerable amount of its running time in hospitals, and doctors offices as its subject battles her disease. Jones has setbacks, but she fights her illness with a determination that is inspiring.
Kopple provides kernels of insight into how Sharon Jones became the strong woman she is. The youngest of six children, she was the first to graduate high school and go to college, and she often supported her family over the years. She recalls the racism she experienced in her hometown of North Augusta, South Carolina, and meeting her greatest musical influence, James Brown. These moments flesh out her character, and make viewers adore her even more.
Then there are the fabulous concert scenes. An extended performance at the Beacon Theater in New York is especially exciting. When Jones belts out a funk and R&B version of “Longer and Stronger,” it takes on new meaning after her battle with cancer. Her enthusiastic performance shows the resilience Jones has coming back from a near-death experience. It’s hard not to be moved by Miss Sharon Jones. In fact, when a member of the Dap Kings commands, “Put your hands together for Miss Sharon Jones!” viewers may just find themselves applauding.
Miss Sharon Jones! opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.