Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky

Hello Sunshines,

This show is a homage to three great soul singers who have passed away in the last year – Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and Sonny Knight. All three were absolutely awesomely incredible! All three are missed immensely.

All three were closely linked with the soul revival movement of the last 15 years or so. Soul Revival has been a rebirth of music that has been brining about a familiar feeling of a pure urge to let loose and get down. Soul music has been reincarnated like some sort of Afro-Jesus, brought back to life by labels such as Daptone, Secret Stash Records and Record Kicks. These labels have brought Soul, Afro-Beat, Gospel and Funk back into the ears and hearts of the Boogie-Sphere.

Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley passed away on 23 September after a battle with stomach cancer. He had stomach cancer diagnosed in the fall of 2016. He underwent treatment and returned to touring this year, but canceled his remaining live shows earlier this month and announced that the cancer had spread to his liver. “I love all of you out there that made my dreams come true,” Mr. Bradley said at the time.

Known as the Screaming Eagle of Soul for his serrated cries of pain and longing, Mr. Bradley released his first album, “No Time for Dreaming,” in 2011 at the age of 62. He followed that with two more albums — “Victim of Love” in 2013 and “Changes” last year — all for Dunham Records, a division of the modern Brooklyn soul label Daptone.

Gabriel Roth, a founder of Daptone who discovered Mr. Bradley as the James Brown tribute act Black Velvet, said: “Charles was somehow one of the meekest and strongest people I’ve ever known. His pain was a cry for universal love and humanity.’’

Like his idol Brown or his fellow soul revivalist Sharon Jones, whose career closely mirrored his own, Mr. Bradley sang wearily of personal travails and social concerns, often emphasizing the overlap between the two. “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” he cried on his debut. On “The World (Is Going Up in Flames),” he added: “This world/is going up in flames/and nobody/wants to take the blame.”

But he also began “Changes” with a rousing rendition of “God Bless America,” prefacing it with a monologue in verse:

Hello, this is Charles Bradley
A brother that came from the hard licks of life
That knows that America is my home
America, you’ve been real, honest, hurt and sweet to me
But I wouldn’t change it for the world

Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones, a powerhouse soul singer with a gritty voice, fast feet and indomitable energy, died on 18 November 2016 of pancreatic cancer. She was 60.

Ms. Jones sang and shouted the kind of gospel-charged soul and funk she had grown up on. Her voice had bite, bluesiness, rhythmic savvy and a lifetime of conviction. She was backed by the Dap-Kings, the revivalist New York City R&B band that supplied her songs as she sparked their career.

She was discovered in 1996 by Gabriel Roth, a founder of the Brooklyn-based Daptone Records and the Dap-Kings’ bassist and main songwriter (under the name Bosco Mann). Ms. Jones had tried decades earlier to get a start in the music business, but was told by record labels that she didn’t have the looks to be a performer. Later, she would recall in the 2016 documentary “Miss Sharon Jones!,” the refrain became, “too short, too fat, too black and too old.”

But with the Dap-Kings — who sometimes introduced her as “110 pounds of soul excitement” — she became an unstoppable frontwoman. As she sang about love troubles, hard times and a woman’s strength, she would race across the stage in high heels — and sooner or later kick them off — while shouting and shimmying in fringed, sequined dresses.

Sonny Knight

Sonny Knight died at the age of 69 on 17 June 2017. Knight enjoyed a late-career revival, thanks to support from local record label and collective Secret Stash and his fiery horn-fueled band the Lakers. In 2013, Sonny Knight and the Lakers released the acclaimed album I’m Still Here, and followed that up with 2016’s Sooner or Later.

Earlier this spring, the powerhouse soul singer announced that he would be canceling all of his scheduled tour dates so that he could undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer. “The last four years of being a part of the Lakers have been the best years of my life,” Knight told Andrea Swensson at that time. “It’s incredible all the people that have come out and given us so much love and support.”

Sonny Knight had enjoyed an earlier recording career in the 1960s and ’70s, recording singles as Little Sonny Knight and then as a member of funk group Haze. Knight served in the United States Army, and he later worked as an over-the-road truck driver before revitalizing his music career in 2014.

Secret Stash wrote, “Sonny leaves a legacy of entertainment and a joy for life that won’t soon be forgotten by his family, friends, band, and fans.”

In May 2017, Knight spoke frankly with Andrea Swensson about his diagnosis, and he also described how the Lakers and Secret Stash had become so close to his heart. “This is my family,” Knight said. “I look forward to going to work. Why? Because of our experiences; of what we do in fun times, and the obstacles that we come across. And that’s the really fun part, because we find ways to get through them. Out of all the bands I’ve played in, this is my family, my friends, my circle; people that I can truly say got my back. And it took me a long time to try and learn that. These cats are there for me and I’m good with that.”


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