SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS with JAMES HUNTER at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Friday (June 6), doors 7 pm, all ages. $39.50-$59.50. RTH, TM.
Sharon Jones will never forget the year she made her latest album, Give The People What They Want (Daptone).
"I could be an old lady," she says before switching into a faux elderly voice, "Oh yeah, back in 2013...." During the album's making, Jones's mother died of cancer, and Neal Sugarman - who co-founded her label and plays saxophone in her band, the Dap-Kings - lost his brother to cancer. Then, about a year ago, Jones herself was diagnosed with the disease.
"You know what I'm saying?" she asks. "That album will have meaning for me for the rest of my years, no matter what I do."
The record, Jones's fifth, was initially going to be named after its penultimate track, People Don't Get What They Deserve. It would have been fitting, if a little uncharacteristically negative for her classic 60s, early 70s soul music - whose revival over the past decade Jones and Daptone (Charles Bradley, the Budos Band) have pioneered.
First, the worst crisis: doctors diagnosed Jones, then 57, with bile-duct cancer last spring, discovering later that she actually had stage-two pancreatic cancer, for which she underwent extensive chemotherapy.
Before that, Jones had enjoyed a few years of success with the Dap-Kings, but her rise to fame wasn't exactly seamless. Among other career setbacks, there was, for example, the Sony Music executive who didn't think she had "the look."
"He told me, literally, that I was too black. He told me I should bleach my skin," she says. "Too black, too fat, too short, too old."
Then there were other smaller injustices, like the time, she says, that Kanye West sampled her song The Dap Dip for his tune Brand New Day without giving her proper dues.
You can see how Jones could belt out, "People don't get what they deserve" with conviction.
Ultimately, though, Jones, sick in the hospital, couldn't learn the lyrics to the song in time. So they went for the more uplifting, current title, which makes just as much sense.
She has, after all, been successfully giving the people her unapologetically throwback soul for over a decade now on Daptone, Sony executive and naysayers be damned. And, having undergone chemo for the last time late in 2013, she's feeling much better.
But, says the singer, the fight for the music she loves isn't over yet.
"In the music industry, when you see the awards, do you see me up there? Do you see an award for soul music? No. So maybe that's my goal, for the music industry to recognize soul."