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"Some record label told mе I was too fat, too short, Black and old."

Sharon Jones is dancing in a red dress.
Daptone Records
/
Starz Digital Media
Sharon Jones

"Miss Sharon Jones!" tells the complicated story of a brilliant soul singer still fighting for fame even after a devastating medical diagnosis.

You know you have one hell of a stage presence when you're referred to as "The Female James Brown."

Sharon Jones was just a little over five feet tall, but when she was onstage with her band The Dap Kings she towered over everyone, with rafter-shaking vocals and a personality to spare.

She was never a household name, but Jones had a devoted fan base not just here in the States, but all over the world.

That alone would be a good reason for Barbara Kopple to want to do a documentary, but fate threw in an unwanted plot twist: right before the release of the band's fifth album, Give the People What They Want, Jones was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, which eventually led to stage II pancreatic cancer.

Miss Sharon Jones!— which was how she was always introduced by her band— is given full access to the singer's harrowing treatments and the myriad of emotions that entails, especially as an artist who always seemed to be just on the brink of major success.

We see Jones' tears when she loses her hair, yet also her insistence at not wearing a wig onstage, performing proudly bald. We watch her worry about money— especially her bandmates who are forced to be sidelined as well. It's especially painful to see someone renowned for her frenetic dancing and high energy shows to become overcome with exhaustion.

But Jones never really loses her feistiness and her sharp sense of humor, and the footage of her onstage is an absolute joy and carries the film. And at the end of the documentary when she rings the bell for her last chemo treatment and her cancer goes into remission, it's truly a beautiful thing.

But this is a documentary, not a fairy tale.

When the film was screened at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Jones announced to the crowd that the cancer had returned. After enduring two strokes, Sharon Jones passed away the following year at just 60 years old.

But thankfully, the music lives on. And the soundtrack is filled with some of the best funk and soul music you will ever find, primarily from the band's first three albums.

But for today's SoundTRAX selection I'm going with the one found exclusively in the film, an autobiographical song Jones herself cowrote with The Dap Kings you've probably heard us play many times here on WFPK.

From Miss Sharon Jones!, it's Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings with "I'm Still Here."

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.