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Sharon Jones On Returning To Music After Cancer Surgery: 'I'm Ready To Go'

Sharon Jones
Kyle Dean Reinford

Amid cancer treatment, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings plot comeback with new album and major TV performances.

Sharon Jones is feeling great today. The singer has just taken a seat in the kitchen at a friend's house in upstate New York, where she's been charting her progress day by day since having surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her bile duct this past June.

"I got my green drink–I'm ready to go," says the Dap-Kings frontwoman with the same vivacity in her 57-year-old voice that has made the retro-soul band a must-see for nearly a decade. "Sometimes I can get so weak–walking up the 16 steps to my bedroom feels like I ran a mile. But doctors say that's just the chemo, and I'm more than halfway there. They don't want to quote an exact date, but it's looking like New Year's Eve will be my last treatment. I'm praying for that."

"Give the People What They Want" couldn't have been a more appropriate title for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' fifth studio album, due Jan. 14 on Daptone Records, which was founded by band members Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman. Originally on tap for an August release, the album and a subsequent tour were postponed after Jones' cancer diagnosis.

The new collection–featuring the band's signature analog, late-'60s/early-'70s soul sound that has influenced Amy Winehouse, the Roots, Fitz and the Tantrums, and others–will be accompanied by a triumphant return to touring on Feb. 6 at New York's Beacon Theater. Plus, there's a marketing push that could have the band-whose last set, 2010's I Learned the Hard Way, peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 and has moved 153,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan-reaching even bigger audiences.

Jones rested her voice all summer while recovering, testing it out for the first time at church in early October. "I thought I wasn't going to be able to push those notes, but everything worked," she says.

A documentary crew from Barbara Kopple's Cabin Creek Films has been chronicling Jones' progress, capturing Jones' church comeback and ensuing burst of vocal activity. "They filmed all of it: We went to church again in Queens, then Monday I had rehearsal with the Dap-Kings," Jones says. "I left there and got in my car and thought, 'Thank God.'"

On Nov. 28, the new album will be set up by perhaps the band's biggest national look yet: a televised performance during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. To accommodate the booking, the group will perform "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects," a one-off Christmas single initially released in 2010 that will receive a re-release complete with a new video. Digital pre-orders of Give the People What They Want launched earlier this week on Amazon, iTunes and the band's own direct-to-fan site to further capitalize on the exposure.

"Whether people are Googling the song, looking for it on YouTube, Shazaming their TV, or in the crowd, there are so many ways we can capture that interest," Daptone Records GM Cathy Bauer says. "We'll have a physical single ready for Black Friday, so people will be able to pick it up wherever they go."

Closer to the album launch, the band will be featured on a series of dates on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." (During their last album cycle, Jones and the Dap-Kings played everything from "The Colbert Report" to "Saturday Night Live" with Michael Bublé.)

"Give the People" is also preceded by two singles: "Retreat!," for which an animated video dropped in October, and "Stranger to My Happiness," which is already picking up plays from influential noncommercial radio stations like KCRW Los Angeles, WKUT Austin and WFUV New York. The band's team is working with a pair of radio promoters-Sean Coakley at Songlines for commercial and Dave Sanford at Distiller Promo for noncommercial-to push the singles.

"This is the first time XRT in Chicago has played Sharon, as far as we know, which is a great sign we'll have more support this time around," says Jones' manager, Alex Kadvan of Lever and Beam.

The band will tour the United States from February through April, hit Europe in May and June, and bounce between the two continents for festivals throughout the summer. In the meantime, while Jones heals, members of the Dap-Kings–who backed Winehouse on much of "Back to Black" and have also recorded with Al Green, Aloe Blacc and others–are keeping busy loaning out their services in the studio, including recording horn parts for Pharrell Williams.

"The No. 1 priority is Sharon's health," Kadvan says. "Once January hits, it's going to be triumphant and emotional."

Jones seems ready for the challenge. "My voice is OK-the rest is the energy," she says. "To hit the high notes, you've just got to stretch it. You do what you have to do, honey."