For perspective, the state of soul music in 1996 was this: The charts were peppered with R Kelly and Babyface-produced/inspired breathy ballads, and one-off hip-hop-soul floor fillers like Ginuwine's "Pony" and BLACKstreet's "No Diggity". On the flip, appreciation of the "classic" soul sound of the 1960s was perhaps at an all-time low. The stars of yesteryear like Irma Thomas, Etta James, Otis Clay, and Solomon Burke were repackaged and marketed towards a "Blues" audience. There was a great divide between these two scenes.
That all began to change when New York City-based Desco Records came along that year, planting the seeds for what is now known as the Soul Revival movement. While the music released on this label was designed to sound like vintage late 60s/early 70s funky soul, the marketing targeted the young, hip-hop-loving college students who were eating up the "rare groove" market. An entirely different genre was born, doing what seemed impossible: Making the vintage soul sound relevant to a modern audience.
Desco (and its subsequent spin offs like Daptone & Soulfire) made serious waves in underground music markets. However, these labels would not have made such an impact without the commanding performances of their two most electrifying artists, Lee Fields and Miss Sharon Jones.
Sharon Jones, more than anyone else, carved out the pathway for the soul-revival scene that's currently thriving all around the world. Today, every town-of-size has at least one Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings-inspired band.
Sharon Jones was a fighter. She built this musical movement song by song, gig by gig, climbing up that hill a little at a time over years and years. Her success wasn't instant, but incremental. It was hard-won, and maybe against all odds, fighting the ever-changing trends of top 40 over two decades. She persisted to prove that she and this music were more than a passing fad. Then, even more unlikely, the success of Sharon Jones reopened the doors for those who came before her. People like Bettye Lavette, Barbara Lynn, and so many others would find a new generation of listeners whose minds were cracked wide open by the sledgehammer soul of Miss Sharon Jones. Her contribution as an ambassador of this music cannot be overstated.
My career as a DJ paralleled the singing career of Sharon Jones. I too carved my way, gig by gig, gradually building my local audience over two decades. None of it has come easy. Each tiny achievement has been a result of an enormous effort, but like Sharon Jones, my belief in the power of this music has spurred me on.
I'm proud to say I was one of the many DJs who first helped to introduce Sharon Jones to an audience. However, it is not lost on me that it is because of Sharon's efforts to build appreciation for this music, that I'm still able to grow my own audience today. Today and every day, I will honor the gift she left for us all. A fighter to the end. I will follow your path. Thank you, Sharon Jones.
In these incredibly turbulent days, tonight I share with you one of the best protest records from the George W Bush era.