Remembering Sharon Jones, In Pictures Photographer Jacob Blickenstaff documented Sharon Jones for years both on- and off-stage. Here, he shares archival shots of the dearly departed star.
NPR logo In Pictures: Sharon Jones Remembered

In Pictures: Sharon Jones Remembered

Jacob Blickenstaff is a New York-based music photographer who worked with Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings extensively since 2009. Here, he shares archival shots of the dearly departed star. Jones' posthumous album with The Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman, was released by Daptone Records in November.


With a lot of other musical subjects, you wait for the opportunities to show them in the best moments. In a fleeting gesture, they might reveal themselves subconsciously. But Sharon Jones beamed who she was right at you, from the first minute to the last. It was more about rising to her level of commitment and the way she gave herself over to the music. You had to keep up with her. She was going to give you a lot, but you had to act fast in order to gather and distill as much of that energy into a photograph as you could.

As many of her friends and bandmates did, I loved Sharon. I think my deepest motivation was to be a witness of who she was and reflect it back to her in pictures. I'm proud to have worked on several album covers and publicity portraits for Daptone, but a deeper personal current ran beneath it all. We weren't close socially, we didn't correspond or talk on the phone, but I always felt an intimacy when I was around her, and she seemed to understand what I was doing. I remember meeting her backstage after not seeing her for a while and she said matter-of-factly, "Oh, it's Jacob with the pictures."

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings performing at the Highline Ballroom in February 2009.
Jacob Blickenstaff

February, 2009, Highline Ballroom — Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings performing. This was the first time photographing them and I was lucky to catch them in a smaller room.

Brooklyn Bowl, December 2009 - As a regular part of Sharon's show she'd invite people up to dance with her. Sometimes her dancing partners were a little awkward, but she loved the interaction and the exchange of energy directly with fans.
Jacob Blickenstaff

December, 2009, Brooklyn Bowl — As a regular part of Sharon's show she'd invite people up to dance with her. Sometimes her dancing partners were a little awkward, but she loved the interaction and the exchange of energy directly with fans.

Williamsburg Waterfront, August 2012 - This image really captures a certain sassy command of the stage. I remember the excitement of shooting from the stage; I always loved that perspective as it allowed me to sense the relationship of her with her audience, and when the band was really locked in I felt I could operate within that energy and really try to document the experience from within.
Jacob Blickenstaff

August, 2012, Williamsburg Waterfront -- This image really captures her sassy command of the stage. I remember the excitement of shooting from the stage; it allowed me to sense the relationship of her with her audience and when the band was locked in with her I could sync up with their energy and document the experience from within.

New York, March 2013 - This was from a promotional portrait shoot commissioned by the label. The work stayed in the can for several years, as right after this Sharon got her cancer diagnosis and took the better part of a year for treatment.
Jacob Blickenstaff

March, 2013, New York — This was from a promotional portrait shoot commissioned by the label. The work stayed in the can for several years, as right after this Sharon got her cancer diagnosis and took the better part of a year for treatment. Someone had the good sense to go out and buy some flowers, which really softened up the image. By default, I always directed Sharon to look tough, but being more comfortable with each other I became aware of a very sweet side of her, and remember the quiet intimacy of that day.

Beacon Theater, February 2014 - I didn't really know about Sharon's spiritual dimension until the time of this picture. I learned that leading up to a performance, Starr Duncan (left) and Saundra Williams (right) would often say a prayer together with Sharon, which was an important part of focusing the emotional energy that she would bring to her performances.
Jacob Blickenstaff

February, 2014, Beacon Theater — I didn't really know about Sharon's spiritual dimension until the time of this picture. I learned that leading up to a performance, Starr Duncan (left) and Saundra Williams (right) would often say a prayer together with Sharon, which was an important part of focusing the emotional energy that she would bring to her performances.

Apollo Theater, December 2014 - Sharon and nearly the entire Daptone roster returned to the Apollo Theater for three nights of the 'Daptone Super Soul Revue'. My most personal memories of Sharon are the handful of times being one-on-one with her in her dressing room. I wasn't friends with her in a very social way, we didn't talk on the phone or correspond.
Jacob Blickenstaff

December, 2014, Apollo Theater — Sharon, and nearly the entire Daptone roster, returned to the Apollo Theater for three nights, for the "Daptone Super Soul Revue." My most personal memories of Sharon are being one-on-one with her in her dressing room. I'm very humbled that she'd let me in to that space. I felt fully accepted, and I hope she felt fully seen.

Apollo Theater, December 2014 - A sequence shot on film - her performances were so physical, I was always looking for the subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) of her body language.
Jacob Blickenstaff

December, 2014, Apollo Theater — A sequence shot on film. Her performances were so physical, I was always looking for the subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) of her body language.

Apollo Theater, December 2014 - Sharon working a room.
Jacob Blickenstaff

December, 2014, Apollo Theater — Sharon doing what she did best: working a room.

Apollo Theater, December 2014 - A multiple exposure image - With a big group like the Dap-Kings, it's hard to get all of them in a live photo and at the same time do justice to Sharon's energy. But Sharon and the Dap-Kings have a very symbiotic relationship - they rise to match Sharon's performance, and Sharon operate at her peak because of their musical excellence.
Jacob Blickenstaff

December, 2014, Apollo Theater — A multiple-exposure image. With a big group like the Dap-Kings, it's hard to get all of them in a live photo and at the same time do justice to Sharon's energy. But Sharon and the Dap-Kings have a very symbiotic relationship, they rose to match Sharon's performance, and Sharon operated at her peak because of their musical excellence. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Apollo Theater, December 2014 - The day of one of the Apollo shows, it was announced that Give The People What They Want was nominated for a Grammy. Her management went out to get some champagne and plastic flutes. Sharon was always humble but in this case was deservedly proud about the news.
Jacob Blickenstaff

December, 2014, Apollo Theater — Sharon was always humble, but in this case was deservedly proud over the news. The day of one of the Apollo shows, it was announced that Give The People What They Want was nominated for a Grammy.

March 2015 - This is an outtake from the album cover shoot for It's a Holiday Soul Party - She was never a diva on set, but I remember that at this point of the shoot she was improvising lyrics to the effect of, "let's get this damn photo over so we can eat lunch."
Jacob Blickenstaff

March, 2015 — This is an outtake from the album cover shoot for It's a Holiday Soul Party. She was never a diva on set, but I remember that at this point of the shoot she was improvising lyrics to the effect of: "Let's get this damn photo over so we can eat lunch."

Jacob Blickenstaff
February 2016, Madison Square Garden - The band was opening for Daryl Hall and John Oates. I don't know what she was laughing about but she was a very warm and funny person.
Jacob Blickenstaff

February, 2016, Madison Square Garden — The band was opening for Daryl Hall and John Oates. In the green room, around her band, management and close friends, she was a very playful and funny person.

Jacob Blickenstaff
February 2016, Madison Square Garden - For me, one of the most interesting things to witness were those moments of transition on and off stage. Sharon went from being very focused and inward to fully present, switched on and ready to be with the audience.
Jacob Blickenstaff

February, 2016, Madison Square Garden — Sharon as seen between Joey Crispiano (left) and Gabe Roth (right).

July 2016, Tinley Park, Ill. - Another moment alone with Sharon in a dressing trailer out on tour. It was a somewhat unglamorous setup, but I was in quiet awe being there with her as she transformed for the stage. This was the last time I'd photograph her in performance.
Jacob Blickenstaff

July, 2016, Tinley Park, Illinois — An unglamorous dressing trailer in back of a very hot, outdoor venue in Indiana. This one's hard to talk about because it was the last time I had a private moment with her. I was in quiet awe being there with her as she transformed for the stage. She was speaking quietly about wanting to leave behind as much as she could musically for her fans, her band and her label. She was pushing for everyone else from a place of deep-selflessness and generosity.

July 2016, Tinley Park, Ill. - Sharon and the band were on tour with Daryl Hall and John Oates. The Dap-Kings had convinced Oates to perform an obscure soul record he had cut as a teenager in Philadelphia. The band learned the music and they rehearsed it at soundcheck. It was a very fun moment.
Jacob Blickenstaff

July, 2016, Tinley Park, Illinois — On tour with Daryl Hall and John Oates, the Dap-Kings convinced Oates to perform an obscure single he had cut as a teenager in Philadelphia called "I Need Your Love." The band learned the music and they rehearsed it at soundcheck to perform that night as a duet. It was a moment of pure fun for the band and Sharon.

Celebrate Brooklyn, June 2016 - When I came to this show, I wasn't sure if I was going to photograph it. Sometimes it's easy to rest and think that I've made enough pictures of Sharon performing, but there was something special about this show, Sharon and the band were just ferocious, and I quickly scrambled to start shooting.
Jacob Blickenstaff

June, 2016, Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival --- When I came to this show, I wasn't sure if I was going to photograph it or just hang out. Sometimes it's easy to rest and think that I've made enough pictures of Sharon performing, but there was something special about this show, Sharon and the band were just ferocious. It was an important lesson: if Sharon can push herself like that every time, then I should get off my butt whenever I think what I've already done is "good enough."

Celebrate Brooklyn, June 2016 After the show, Sharon Jones met with Sharon Van Etten.
Jacob Blickenstaff

June, 2016, Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival — After the show, Sharon (Jones) met with Sharon (Van Etten). This photo reminds me that every musician that I've talked with about Sharon has a tremendous respect for her. Almost universally, they knew she was the real thing and how much it took to do what she did.