Singing through the battle, with soul

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Photo: UCSB Arts & Lectures

Singer Sharon Jones found success relatively late in life. She released her first record when she was 40 years old. Now, at 59, neither her age nor health problems have stopped her from performing.

The story of her battle with pancreatic cancer was told in the recent documentary, “Miss Sharon Jones.” At the film’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival this past September, she announced that battle wasn’t over.

“When I came on stage I had already taken my first dose of chemo,” said Jones. The cancer came back this time as lesions on her liver. The chemo is turning her hands and skin dark, and she’s noticing spots on her tongue.

“It has an effect, but not like the first time,” she said.

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Photo: UCSB Arts & Lectures

Jones grew up in North Augusta, South Carolina and would imitate James Brown alongside her brother as a kid.

“I never knew that, later on in life I’d be called the female James Brown,” said Jones. She definitely didn’t know it when she was working as a correctional officer at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City, or as a Wells Fargo armored car guard putting money in ATMs.

It wasn’t until she sang backing vocals on a Lee Fields track in 1996 that she entered the music scene.

Now, she uses influences from the ’60s through the ’90s, like the Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, to form her music.

“I’m not a pop singer, and I don’t want to sing like them,” said Jones. “I don’t want to try to keep up and be a Beyonce or Miley. I want to be who I am.”

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings played the Santa Barbara Bowl last year alongside the Tedeschi Trucks Band. This week, she plays a much smaller local venue, UCSB’s Campbell Hall.

“I’m not a little young kid, but I want to keep my energy and I want to continue to sing,” she said. “When I get with the band, and we get on the stage and I get in front of the audience, I get energy, I get strength.”

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Photo: UCSB Arts & Lectures