Sharon Jones from Jameson to Fela Kuti, Preshow Rites of a Soul Band


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SHARON JONES is, as the saying goes, the real deal. A 5-foot-1 vocal powerhouse who has been nicknamed the Queen of Funk, Ms. Jones, 53, grew up singing at home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in church and in local bands.

But professional success in music eluded her; for a time she worked as a prison guard at Rikers Island, where the inmates would sometimes make requests. Now, as the leader of the Dap-Kings, the house band of the Brooklyn record label Daptone, Ms. Jones is the epitome of the soul revival. “I Learned the Hard Way," the fourth album by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, which entered the Billboard album chart at No. 15 this month, earned praise for staying true to the analog grit of its predecessors.

Ms. Jones still lives with her mother in a public housing in Far Rockaway, Queens, a rough area she escapes by going fishing in the Delaware Water Gap. In an interview in the waiting room of her ear, nose and throat doctor -- Ms. Jones needed a checkup before a European tour -- she and Neal Sugarman, a Dap-King saxophonist and a founder of Daptone, talked about the musicians they draw inspiration from, like Otis Redding and Etta James, and their recently upgraded life on tour.

After years of buying her own vintage dresses, Ms. Jones now has a stage wardrobe that comes courtesy of the designers Trina Turk and Minna. And the shoes she dances up a storm in? “Payless," she stage-whispered. “Don't tell anyone."

Sharon Jones, above, the leader of the Dap-Kings, calls Aretha Franklin, her biggest inspiration. Some of the other artists she's listening to: Fela Kuti and Erykah Badu.

Between filling out insurance forms, she sang, did impressions and talked up her album to other patients, handing out fliers. She never just walked to the nurse's station; she shimmied. No action was too small for a bit of verve. When she emerged from the doctor's office with a prescription, she gave a little side kick.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

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