Unfortunately it wasn’t until his passing that I realized I sorely overlooked Prince as an afrofuturist. So after this year, I’ll be shifting the afrofuturism show to June 7, Prince Day. Jimi’s birthday might celebrate Black rock, blues, country, metal and other genres heavy in guitar and his influence. And yes Prince will be there too. But for now, let’s acknowledge the one person who was truly great enough to be heir to Jimi’s legacy.
We pay tribute to the late Miss Sharon Jones this week. Her talent and tenacity were infectious and for 20 years she gave us her all. We will miss her and her presence but celebrate the life she gave and the new generation of soul that thrived with her prompting. This show is dedicated to her. Check the blog for a few words about her impact and legacy.
(Barely Audible) Music Under: “The Black Mother” by Georgia Anne Muldrow as Jyoti
You can find me on Twitter @IndasCorner, Tumblr at cornerstorepress.tumblr.com and my blog at cornerstorepress.wordpress.com. You can also check out the podcast I co-host with Didi (@dustdaughter) called Black Girl Squee (@blackgirlsquee) at blackgirlsquee.podomatic.com. You can support me and the show at email@example.com or find me on Patreon at Inda Lauryn.
I was living at home under a parent’s roof the first time I heard Sharon Jones. I was flipping channels and stopped on IFC. I want to say it was a Courtney Cox film (I can’t find it anymore) when I heard the opening notes of a beautiful old school song during the last scene before it eventually played out over the credits. Whatever that film was, I watched it to the end of the credits because I wanted to catch the name of the song and the name of the artist for future reference.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. “Make It Good to Me.”
It started there. I remember listening to the first three albums on some type of service that allowed users to listen to albums for a limited number of time (before getting rid of that app altogether). They also became one of my first, possibly the first, YouTube obsession as I constantly went down holes looking for content, eventually finding an array of live performances and a beautiful rendition of “Answer Me” in which I learned that Sharon could play a mean piano.
Of course, I eventually bought the CDs. I might have waited until I Learned the Hard Way was released in 2010, but I might have treated myself to the first three along with the singles’ collection. In either case, I know I made my mother copies knowing how much she would appreciate the upbeat funk associated with Sharon’s style.
However, it was a live performance on Austin City Limits that introduced me to the term most used to describe Sharon’s sound: retro soul. I made the distinction right away from the neo-soul I’d listened to almost exclusively during the early 2000s. Whereas neo-soul could be firmly placed in the here and now, retro soul showed more of an appreciation and influence of 60s and 70s soul. Sharon even explained that they used the same recording methods and equipment from that era to create their sound.
But Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings were no mere throwbacks. Rather, they crafted their act to so much perfection that they revamped 80s classics such as Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and Prince’s “Take Me With You” in ways that rendered them unrecognizable from the originals. And slayed them.
In a way, I wonder if the whole 60s soul aesthetic fit with this new age of the music industry we have entered. Sharon created her own label after hearing rejections on all the wrong issues: too short, too fat, too black, too old. Never did anyone say she wasn’t talented. However, with her own label, she created an aesthetic reminiscent of 60s soul groups traveling the Chitlin Circuit. As more artists find themselves in their own virtual chitlin circuits attempting to make a name for themselves, Sharon showed us how it was done back in the day and that it was still possible.
And for all that work that went into giving us a look at how it used to be, Sharon ended up giving us something vibrant and fresh. The way she worked those sheath, sometimes fringed, dresses was nothing less than mesmerizing. The constant moving of her legs and feet in those low (I’ve since learned are called kitten) heels somehow transferred her energy to an audience she engaged with the aplomb of the master she was.
Sharon was an obvious heir to Tina’s throne, recalling the Queen in her 60s heyday before the 80s comeback that catapulted her star beyond the stratosphere. Like Tina, Sharon found her greatest success after 40, not even recording her first single until then. The Dap Dippin’ album was not released until 2002 when Sharon was 46. Of course, those who know her story and now mourn her passing are taking the opportunity to make her life a platitude: she worked a number of jobs (including at Riker’s prison) before she ever went into music. She was the living example that it is never too late.
But to me she is a hero because she had the means to make her own after hearing all the rejections. She eventually co-created Dap Tone records and put together a house band, the Dap Kings. She stayed committed to an aesthetic familiar to us who study the looks of the bands and groups from the early rock and roll era. Sharon stood proudly in front of the boys in the band with their matching suits, later also with background singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe. All clean and polished, just like their sound.
As I tend to do with artists who fire something in my soul, I spent hours listening to the albums and anxiously awaiting new work. I fell in love with tracks like “All Over Again,” “Settling In,” “Let Them Knock” and “You’re Gonna Get It,” songs of unabashed sexuality with vocals as sultry and slinky as the lyrics and musical accompaniment. I also loved that she took on politics with tracks such as “This Land Is Your Land” and “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes.” I watched the short film The Game Gets Old with all the enthusiasm as the premier of a Michael Jackson music video back in the day. And of course waited for new YouTube uploads of live performances.
Like many acts I grow fond of, I had no hope of ever seeing Sharon Jones live in person, so television and online videos had to suffice. But at least I got a taste. So in 2013 when she announced a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, I was crestfallen. I feared the worst. But in 2014 after a treatment of surgery and chemotherapy, Sharon returned sporting her newly bald head, practically giving the middle finger to the cancer that kept her down for nearly a year. However, that treatment was also documented in Miss Sharon Jones, which was released this past summer.
Watching Sharon promote the doc on the summer gave me hope. I was so relieved and proud that she was still here to see her life documented, getting the recognition she so richly deserved for all she put into her work. Just as Prince was a herald of funk, Sharon was the herald of soul. The old school soul revival with groups such as The Black Keys, Vintage Trouble and The Suffers started with her. But none of them could work the stage like she did. They may have gotten the music and vocal intonations correct, but Sharon brought much more. Sharon Jones was the show.
Her loss hurts as much as Prince’s did seven months ago in April. However, I was heartened to see the outpouring of love and grief by so many in my circle who knew and loved this woman. She is one of the women for whom I created The Black Swan Collective. As far as I’m concerned, she can never get enough credit for the vivaciousness she brought to the stage. And for her presence. Because unlike many other artists who get that elusive goal of visibility, we saw ourselves in Sharon. We saw those parts that got rejected even though they had nothing to do with what we do. Sharon Jones dared to be Sharon Jones. By having the audacity to be herself, she told us to do the same.
Thank you, Miss Sharon Jones.
Never played D&D but trying to learn the alignment charts. Apparently this is how mine would pan out:
I Am A: Chaotic Evil Dwarf Ranger (4th Level)
Chaotic Evil A chaotic evil character does whatever his greed, hatred, and lust for destruction drive him to do. He is hot-tempered, vicious, arbitrarily violent, and unpredictable. If he is simply out for whatever he can get, he is ruthless and brutal. If he is committed to the spread of evil and chaos, he is even worse. Thankfully, his plans are haphazard, and any groups he joins or forms are poorly organized. Typically, chaotic evil people can be made to work together only by force, and their leader lasts only as long as he can thwart attempts to topple or assassinate him. Chaotic evil is sometimes called demonic because demons are the epitome of chaotic evil. Chaotic evil is the best alignment you can be because combines self-interest and pure freedom. However, chaotic evil can be a dangerous alignment because it represents the destruction not only of beauty and life but also of the order on which beauty and life depend.
Dwarves are known for their skill in warfare, their ability to withstand physical and magical punishment, their hard work, and their capacity for drinking ale. Dwarves are slow to jest and suspicious of strangers, but they are generous to those who earn their trust. They stand just 4 to 4.5 feet tall, but are broad and compactly built, almost as wide as they are tall. Dwarven men value their beards highly.
Rangers are skilled stalkers and hunters who make their home in the woods. Their martial skill is nearly the equal of the fighter, but they lack the latter’s dedication to the craft of fighting. Instead, the ranger focuses his skills and training on a specific enemy a type of creature he bears a vengeful grudge against and hunts above all others. Rangers often accept the role of protector, aiding those who live in or travel through the woods. His skills allow him to move quietly and stick to the shadows, especially in natural settings, and he also has special knowledge of certain types of creatures. Finally, an experienced ranger has such a tie to nature that he can actually draw on natural power to cast divine spells, much as a druid does, and like a druid he is often accompanied by animal companions. A ranger’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.
Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)
Lawful Good —– XXXXXXXXX (9)
Neutral Good —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (15)
Chaotic Good —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (21)
Lawful Neutral — XXXXXXXX (8)
True Neutral —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Chaotic Neutral – XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (20)
Lawful Evil —– XXXXXXXXXXX (11)
Neutral Evil —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (17)
Chaotic Evil —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (23)
Law & Chaos:
Law —– XX (2)
Neutral – XXXXXXXX (8)
Chaos — XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Good & Evil:
Good —- XXXXXXX (7)
Neutral – XXXXXX (6)
Evil —- XXXXXXXXX (9)
Human —- XXXXXXXXXXXXX (13)
Dwarf —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Elf —— XXXXXXXX (8)
Gnome —- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Halfling – XXXXXX (6)
Half-Elf – XXXXXX (6)
Half-Orc – XXXX (4)
Barbarian – XXXX (4)
Bard —— XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Cleric —- XXXXXX (6)
Druid —– XXXXXXXX (8)
Fighter — XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Monk —— XXXXXXXX (8)
Paladin — XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Ranger —- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (16)
Rogue —– XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Sorcerer — XXXXXXXX (8)
Wizard —- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it. – Toni Morrison
This is possibly my favorite quotation from Toni Morrison, a woman I look up to as a literary foremother if I’m allowed such a lofty aspiration. In fact, this is my mantra when it comes to anything I write. Before anyone else, I write for myself.
Perhaps this is why I find myself writing in so many genres. I enjoy a variety of genres and writing styles. While I seem to have a voice that I now recognize as my own, I still work toward technique and more effective storytelling that might be appealing to others. So far with only rejections, I haven’t seem to have found that technique. But that isn’t the point of this post.
I think a lot about the occasional posts I see on my various social media outlets: wishes to see more fat dark-skinned women as romantic leads, trans women with narratives not about coming out as trans, narratives focusing on leads with disabilities, stories of mental illness that do not make the mentally ill villains or otherwise evil because of the disability. I have a desire to see more of these stories too. However, I sometimes do not feel qualified to write them.
I understand the importance of #OwnVoices and, truth be told, I’d rather read stories with authors who share the experience of their lead characters. In fact, I’d like to see more of us with marginalized identities including characters who have marginalizations we do not share. Yes, I just want more stories that center us without ignoring the parts of our identities that have othered us.
I’ve often written characters who do not share my identity in my stories. I try not to make them a particular identity just for the sake of inclusion, aka tokenism. In many cases, I include these characters because they are inspired by friends and others I have gotten to know in real life. Not only are they inspiration, but they are also my way of paying homage to them. Yes I worry about whether or not I’m being accurate or condescending, but I still feel like I have to take a risk somewhere.
Even with this attempt, there is still a looming worry when I write: the guilt I feel when I see lamentations that we don’t have complex representation in this or that genre, medium or other mode of storytelling. I say to myself that I should be writing this character because someone I know wants to see themselves represented as more than a caricature or sidekick. Of course, sometimes I feel inadequate in my skills to create stories that do justice to the stories they deserve. And as someone without an outlet or influence to boost others, I find it difficult to have an impact when trying to direct others to those I feel more capable of telling those stories.
Then there’s another reason I have trouble with writing for myself: no one except me really wants to read it. Seriously, it’s been difficult finding a foundation of readers who stay engaged with the work I do and grow from that foundation. Then there are the rejections… lots of rejections…
Perhaps this is one of those periods of self-doubt that plagues me every once in a while. But the fine line between work that makes me happy and work that others may enjoy continues to elude me. Of course, there are also the concerns I have that the work just isn’t good enough as I pore over ways to make it better, more appealing, something that will finally make an agent or publishing house or press say yes. Something that will keep readers interested.
But that is the problem in writing for myself. At some point, I have to take the risk and put it out in the world. This means submitting, facing rejection and having to find the self-confidence to repeat the cycle. While I know I’ll continue to take Morrison’s advice to write the book I want to read, I’ll also take on the task of figuring out how to make those stories appealing to others who lament their lack of representation.