This week, the world lost soul and funk singer Sharon Jones, but the Augusta area lost a piece of its heart.
Sharon Jones, a North Augusta native, was always so proud of her hometown. She was so full of life and kind to everyone she met.
The last time the Metro Spirit spoke to Ms. Jones was right before the Godfather of Soul’s birthday last May.
The event, which was free to the public thanks to the title sponsor Copenhaver Consulting, benefited the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils and reunited 13 members of the James Brown Band.
One of the guests for the event was none other than Ms. Jones, who was often called the female James Brown.
From her home in North Augusta, Ms. Jones spoke to Metro Spirit Arts Editor Amy Christian about how she was preparing to celebrate the Godfather’s birthday, and then her own birthday the next day, as well as topics ranging from Prince to what home means to her.
Ms. Jones, you will be deeply missed.
Metro Spirit: Weren’t you in New Orleans recently?
Sharon Jones: Thursday and Friday, actually. Got in Thursday and did the show Friday [at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival].
MS: Didn’t Friday pretty much turn into a Price tribute?
SJ: Everyone! You know what? I think I was the only one that didn’t go, “Purple Rain, Purple Rain” [starts singing]. I said, you know what? I’m not going to do any of those songs. I’m just going to do what Prince told me he loved about my songs. And he loved that song “When I Come Home.” He said, “That is one of the funkiest songs that I’ve heard in 25 years.” He said every time he heard it he wanted to play his guitar, so that’s why he came out there that night when we were in Paris [in 2011]. Oh man.
MS: Did you know he had come out on stage?
SJ: No. I was getting on the Soul Train and dancing. I keep my dances but you have to find what songs to dance to, change it up a little bit, so I had switched songs and I had switched it to “When I Come Home.” So I said, “I’m gonna get on this train and go home, go on down to Augusta, Georgia,” and I said, “While I was down there, these are dances that we did in 1965.” So I pull up these dances and I’m doing the jerk and I don’t know what dance I’m in, but the crowd goes “Whaaaa!!!!” and in my mind I was like, “They like the dancing” and I turned around and there was Prince. And the reason he stopped playing so soon was he dropped his pick. That’s what happened. He dropped his pick and he started clapping his hands and backed away. He didn’t want me to stop singing. We didn’t have to tell him what to play. He was just jamming. When we played for him in Madison Square Garden, my manager said, “So Prince wants you to play. What should we ask him for?” And we were like, “I don’t know what to ask for.” We asked him, and he paid us $5,000 more than what we asked for. So the lesson that I learned, don’t go below you’re worth. All they can do is tell you no or yes, so don’t be afraid. You gotta talk up, you gotta make it, so that was a lesson well learned. Prince taught me that. And not only me, but my management, everybody learned it from that.
MS: Do you think that the James Brown birthday bash will turn into a Prince tribute at some point?
SJ: I’ll see what the JB’s and the rest of them want to do. It’s an honor just to be there, so I’m just there to fill in. I’ll do whatever. And then I’m celebrating my birthday the next day, May 4. How ironic is that?
MS: Didn’t your mom know James Brown?
SJ: When she was a little girl she said, “I knew him. We used to see him out there cleaning shoes and dancing for money, you know.” So yeah, to hear that coming from her was pretty cool. I wish I could find this picture of her with The Temptations at this club. And she met Otis Redding. Her and my aunt. Otis Redding was down at some little club in Georgia.
MS: You moved away from North Augusta at a young age, didn’t you?
SJ: Oh yeah. My mother took me to New York at the age of 3. you see, my mom had left my dad when I was one, when I was a little baby, because they used to fight all the time. And I’m glad she left, because one of them would have killed each other. My father still died. He was 38, I was 12 years old when he passed. And my mother, when she was 23, she had me so she had six kids at the age of 23. But it’s a fact that they used to fight and my mom had this scar on her shoulder and I said, “Mom where’d you get that scar?” and she said, “Your daddy knocked me out the car and I was pregnant with (I forgot who she said she was pregnant with).” He left her out in the ditch and someone came up behind them and said, “Why you did that lady like that?” and picked her up and took her home. That’s why she said after I was born she left. She came to New York and lived in Queens and worked for this Jewish family, stayed in their house and did inside cleaning, you know how they did back in the ‘50s, and that’s what she did until she couldn’t do that anymore because of her back, and then she worked in a toy factory and then she sent for us. She fought our father to get all of us in New York. He didn’t want her to bring all of us up at one time, so she brought the girls up first and then she brought my brothers. In my new album, we’ve got a song coming out and I talk a little bit about my life. The lyrics are, “I left North Augusta at the age of 3; my mother, three brothers, two sisters and me.”
MS: But you came back to the area? Why?
SJ: You know, it’s because it’s my home, even though I went to New York. And let me tell you, there was I time when you wouldn’t have heard those words come out of my mouth. I used to say, “I will never go down to the south. It’s too slow down there.” I was just remembering how it use to be back in the day, but it’s not like that, you know what I’m saying? There are things you gotta let go and people seem to forget that sometime. Then my dad passed away and then my grandmother passed away, so I felt like I had nothing to come back down here for.
And then my sister in New York came down here, she got married and came down here, and so then my brother, he’s down here with them, my other brother, so the only ones left in New York were my oldest brother and my oldest sister and my younger brother and myself. And my youngest brother stayed with my mom, moved in the house to help take care of my oldest brother and my mother in the projects in New York. I was trying to get my career together when my brother died in 2006, and so my next goal was to get my mother out of those projects. Thank God for Michael Buble’s “Crazy Love” album. I did “Saturday Night Live” with him, the duet we did on that album, “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes).” That was the down payment on my house.
So when I finally got a chance to come down here and visit my sister I said, “You know? I think I want me a house down south.” so I told my manager, “Go online and look up some homes in North Augusta” and he said, “Alright.” He found some homes but all the areas he was looking I was like, “But that’s not near the area where I used to live.” Finally, I was just standing there showing my mother and my mother’s friend the old pond we used to fish at where all these raggedy house were up the hill. Now all these beautiful homes are there and I was like, “Wow!” And all of a sudden it started pouring down rain and we came up the hill and then there was this house right on the corner, this brick house with a for sale sign, and we pulled up in front of this car canopy thing to get the rain off of us, and we took that card, and I called that number and the guy said, “Well, I’ll send somebody out the next day.”
They came and showed me the house and my manager said, “Go see the other houses.” I was like, “No.” And he said, “Don’t let them think that you really want that house.” And I said, “But I really do want this house.” He said, “You gotta go see them other houses,” but I said, “Nope, I’m not going to see the other houses.”
It’s just so nice and I’m just down the block from where I was raised at when I was a kid. But it sure is different, there’s such a big difference around here. The Sno-Cap is still on the corner, but it’s such a big difference. I look back at that Sno-Cap and I remember when I couldn’t go in the front door. We had to go around to the back door, the service door. It’s just amazing.
But, you know, some people will never change. You got your diehard racists and they’ll be racists till they’re dead. I’m the type of person that I respect that you treat me bad. I’m not going to go out of my way to treat you bad, but I’m going to stay away from you. I don’t like the eye for an eye, you call me a name so I’m gonna call you a name. I’m not going to call you a name back. I’m going to try my best not to, put it like that. I’m going to try my best to pray for you and keep on going and get away from you, get away from anything negative.
MS: What do you do when you’re home?
SJ: I’ll still go over there to the clubs and meet and see some of the guys. But you know, sometimes when I go out they want me to sing and I don’t want to sing. You just don’t ask someone to sing. And then you’re in a spot because if you don’t go up they say, “Oh, she thinks she too good now?” And that’s why I’m sneaky and I don’t tell them I’m coming. Maybe if you print this they’ll stop calling me up and just let me be there. If I want to sing I will get up there and sing. I will come up and say, “Can I sing?” Just don’t call me. Let me come up and sing. They don’t know. That’s why I sometimes humble myself and go on up there and do it rather than be a snob and, you know, hurt some feelings. But I’ve learned to go up to the mic and say, “Hey baby, I’m just glad to be here.” You know what I’m saying? I even go to churches and they’re like, “Sister Sharon, come on up.” I just want to go to church and sit back there and listen to the word and listen to the other choirs and everybody else singing.
MS: What’s the James Brown Family Birthday Bash going to be like?
SJ: Oh my God, I don’t even know. This evening I’m going to meet the JAMP [James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils] kids because they’re going to be doing a song of mine, so I’m going to go see how they’re doing. Maybe I’ll get up there and sing it with them. It’s gonna fun.
MS: Ever want to live anywhere else?
SJ: I’m glad to be home. The only thing is I gotta get more fishing in. But that’s about it. This is home. This is where I’m gonna be till the end.