“Leaving It All on the Stage,” column for June 16, 2015

She came dancing out on stage looking like a woman who knows exactly who she is, in silver T-strap pumps and a neon-pink dress trimmed with a whole lot of sparkle and fringe that moved when she moved in all the right places.

I thought to myself, “I want that dress.” I might not wear it to church. But I’d definitely wear it on Saturday nights to stay home and watch TV.

If you don’t know Sharon Jones and her music (solid soul, backed up by the Dap-Kings), let me say this: She is a fabulous cross between the great Tina Turner and a female version of the late, great James Brown.

If you don’t know Tina Turner and James Brown? I’m sorry, I can’t help you. That’s the best I can do. Suffice it to say I love Sharon Jones and her music.

My husband knows this about me. He loves her, too. But he bought the tickets to see her (recently, at the Palms in Las Vegas, a few miles from our house) just for me. Or so I like to believe. I take gifts the way I take compliments, any time, any way I can get them. And this was such a gift.

She ripped through a series of soul songs for which I knew every word and sang along with her. I’d tell you the titles but, duh, I don’t remember them. I do recall one special song, “Get Up and Get Out!” simply for the way she introduced it.

As you may guess from the title, it’s about a woman who has suffered too long a man she’d be better off without. But in Jones’ case, she said, the suffering wasn’t a man. It was pancreatic cancer.

Diagnosed with the disease in 2013, she spent months undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. Afterwards, in her first appearance in early 2014, she danced out on stage totally bald, choosing not to wear a wig for fear it would fly off her head. Besides, she said, when you sing soul, it’s hard to hide anything.

That’s also true, I’ve found, in writing a column. It may be one reason why I love her work.

She recalled (as the Dap-Kings harmonized behind her) about looking in a mirror one day and seeing that she had lost all her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.

That was the turning point, she said, the moment that she began belting out to the cancer: “Get Up and Get Out!”

I wish you could’ve heard her.

Now, reportedly cancer-free, at the age of 59, with hair and lashes and eyebrows clearly intact, she performs with total abandon, a wild woman of soul, leaving absolutely everything that’s within her on stage.

Cancer or not, she says, we never know if this night will be our last. What better way to leave than by giving it our all?

I’ve thought a lot about Jones’ performance that night, both her music and her “witness.” It begs the question: How will we spend the time we have left? How do we live in a way that makes the most of our talents and our spirits and our lives?

When my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, he chose to keep doing the things he did best: teaching, coaching, being a husband and a father. But in the end, he said, if he could live his life over, he’d have spent less time working and more time with the people he loved. He lived a beautiful life, but it was not without regrets.

Like Sharon Jones, I, too, want to “leave it all on the stage.” But not in terms of a performance or a column or a career.

I just want to leave a smile on the faces of those who know me best. I want to tell my stories and hear every story I am told. I want to ask the right questions and truly listen to every answer.

I want to be, as best I can, a wild woman of soul, leaving everything within me on the stage of my one sweet life.

And someday, when I get to heaven?

If it’s not too much to ask, I would really like to sing backup for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

That’s all.

What about you?


  1. Sharon Jones says

    Sharon Randall I thank you for such a nice article on me and the Dap-kings,love your spirit and truthfulness and you also brought tears to my eyes.Oh and thank your husband for buying the tickets to the show!

  2. Sharon Jones says

    I also thank your husband for buying tickets for my show in Vegas…

  3. Sharon- I love you- you make me laugh- you make me cry- I am reading Paper Cranes and it is my treat for the day- thank you for all you give to us through your columns. I have not e mailed you in a while-but you know I pass your words on…Thanks-

  4. Barb Padgett says

    I needed this today. My college roommate, one of my oldest and dearest friends, just told me yesterday that her breast cancer has come back, and I’m scared silly for her. Thank you.

  5. As I’ve said before, I always take a deep breath before I start reading your column. I never know if I’ll cry a bit, smile or laugh out loud, but I always savor every word. It’s better than dessert! I also hope I leave my loved ones with smiling memories & find that I think of that kind of thing much more often as I continue to “grow up.” I was so grateful to have the chance to meet you when you were in Anderson,SC, recently & tried to think of a way to express to you how much your writings means to me & apparently many others. Couldn’t figure out how to do so, but know this, Sharon: you’ve touched so many in such a huge way that your crown will be top-heavy with stars!

  6. Dianne Orr Hartzell says

    I have enjoyed your columns for years,,You always touch my heart,,By the way I saw where my classmate of 50 years ago left a comment for you,,Sheri Reynard,,Albany In,she loves you too..
    You and I share a friend,, Tom Jerles,,former principal in RedKey, IN,,,our children attended Redkey Elementary,,.My husband Gary and I just celebrated our 50th anniversary,,we live near Phoenix, Arizona now but return to Indiana every summer,,. We have 3 kids and 11 grandchildren,,We are blessed..Keep up the good work Sharon,, I have admired your work clear back when your husband was fighting cancer,,YOU matter so much to many of us,,Blessings,, Dianne Orr Hartzell

  7. Wonderful thoughts and advice. Your column always lifts me up but also gives me something to ruminate and bounce around in my head when I have a few moments of quiet or nights without sleep. I am so glad you are around…please stay here!

  8. Sheri Reynard says

    Dear Wild Woman of Soul,
    You have left a smile on my face and heart for years. I have tears in my eyes just thinking of how much I aspire to be like you. You are one of the best and your family is blessed to have you.
    My best wishes.

    Sheri Reynard
    Albany, IN

  9. Made me cry . But you make me smile too when I read a story put in golden words by you ,just the way it should be . Who would not appreciate your column ? full of wisdom ,truth and like all words can speak any time , really good article and it can be published in most precious story book ,magazine and in our hearts too and anybody can remember them for ever . Thank you Sharon so so much . Love you .

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