From One North Augusta Girl To Another… Thank You!
DIRECTOR: BARBARA KOPPLE / 2016
I decided to go see a movie by myself last Friday night. I see tons of films alone but never on a Friday evening, too many youths and couples for my unassured, introverted self. But I made an exception last weekend. I did my hair, make-up and put on a dress. I drove an hour to Champaign, Illinois and bought my ticket at a favorite spot, The Art Theater. I got dressed up, faced interactions with unruly teens and drove the extra mile all because Miss Sharon Jones! was opening in freaking Illinois! She is a Soul Queen from my home town of North Augusta, South Carolina. Y’all, do you know what kind of treat it is to see little North Augusta in the Midwest? I was ecstatic. Hearing her James Brown influenced tunes and seeing her drive down Carolina Avenue in the film made me long for pine trees, fried okra and the sound of cicadas in the summer. Her music feels like home! But Miss Sharon Jones! is not just another documentary about the music nor is it a nostalgia story. Miss Sharon Jones! is the story of perseverance and transformation in spite of the cancer-sized road blocks life puts in your way. This is the story of Sharon Jones and her fight to bring joy and music to the masses.
“You are witnessing a woman being hit with the fragility of her own life.”
Directed by Barbara Kopple, (Shut Up And Sing, Harlan County USA) a 40 year accomplished documentary veteran, Miss Sharon Jones! starts with Jones shaving her head. The feisty, 4-foot-11 dynamo has stage 2 pancreatic cancer and in that moment shes not her infectious self. This is not a staged event, the emotions are raw and intimate. You are witnessing a woman being hit with the fragility of her own life. There are tears but to Jones cancer is just another obstacle in her path, not a death sentence. The next scene she is trying on wigs laughing and coming to terms with her new look. “I have no eyebrows but I be looking cute!” Jones has been knocking down obstacles all her life. There is a scene in the film where she talks about 1960’s racism in North Augusta. Then there was the Sony Executive that told her “You are too fat, too black, too short and too old to be a star.” She was told that right before she released her first soul album at the fantastic age of forty. And now at the age of 60, she might not have a radio hit but she has an audience of millions all over the world! Cancer, you picked a formidable opponent and my money is not on you!
While Miss Sharon Jones! focuses on the resilience of Jones, The Dap Kings and her management throughout her illness, there is still a huge slice of her music in the film. Music flows from this woman! Whether she is singing to a goat in the country or making an appearance on The Ellen Show with The Dap Kings, her powerhouse vocals are a constant. One of my favorite scenes in Miss Sharon Jones! is on a Sunday in a small church in New York. She sings His Eye Is On The Sparrow as a testimony to the Lord’s care throughout her life and she dances down the aisle as the band plays. She is weak and exhausted but you get a sense that she is secure and somehow stronger after the whole experience. She lives her life through song and it’s beautiful. If you don’t find yourself bobbing your head, tapping your feet or buying her music immediately after the film then I don’t think you’re a real human and we can’t be friends. 🙂
Throughout Miss Sharon Jones! I was struck by words that start with a G. The GRACIOUSNESS of Jones and how she allowed people to walk through this sickness with her. This is vulnerability! She is fierce and independent, she could have fought alone and shut people out, but that graciousness invited people in and built a community of support and love. The GIVING nature of friends and her audience. Her longtime friend Megan Holken opened up her home and gave Jones a place to stay during chemo treatments and procedures so she wouldn’t be alone. And when Jones finally returns to the stage at the Beacon Theater, the audience knows what she is giving, they understand the GIFT they are receiving by being in attendance. And then there’s the GRATITUDE expressed by Jones to doctors, friends, her manager and assistants. Her life is full of joy despite the cancer because of that gratitude.
I can’t help but think of John 10:10 “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come so that you might have life and have it to the full!” Dear Miss Jones, you have a mighty spirit in your tiny frame. The Lord has blessed you with life to the full and through your joy and infectious spirit you are giving hope and courage to so many! Thank you and I sure hope I can give you a hug one day. Until then, here is a picture of me, late at night listening to your LP Give The People What They Want. It’s a masterpiece, just like you!