From Sheila E. to Sheena Easton, Prince extensively nurtured the careers of other performers throughout his life. Among the most recent was Sharon Jones, the 59-year-old soul singer who Prince invited to open for him at Madison Square Garden after he caught one of her sets at South by Southwest.
Days after Prince’s unexpected death in April, Jones connected with EW to discuss her relationship with the Purple One. “That’s one of the most funkiest songs I’ve heard in the last 25 years,” Jones says Prince told her backstage at the Garden when gushing about her SXSW set. He added, “I haven’t heard a funk song that groovy.”
Prince’s decision to tap Jones for the January 2011 gig makes sense — her blend of funk, soul, and rock bears a resemblance to some late legend’s most famous music — but the story behind the booking illustrates his character.
According to Jones, when her manager brought the possibility of the concert to her, she was surprised and immediately anxious about how much compensation to request. “I don’t want to ask for too much and he’ll say, ‘Man, y’all must be crazy, I’ll get somebody else,'” Jones says she told her manager. But when Jones’ team went back to Prince with their figure, he agreed — and added $5,000. “Prince taught us a lesson: ‘Hey, this is what you guys are worth,'” she says.
From there, the pair’s working relationship continued. At one gig in Paris while Jones was opening for Prince, she remembers he surprised her and came out during her set for a surprise guitar spot. “I’m up there on the stage, I’m dancing, people are screaming — and the roaring got louder,” she says. “It turned out it was Prince. He caught me off guard. He would’ve played longer, but he dropped his pick.”
As Jones tells it, the entire moment was coated in Prince’s eccentric flourishes. “He rode up to the stage on a bike, jumped off the bike, got his guitar, played, jumped back on his bike, and rode back to his own, purple dressing room,” she says. “That’s the type of person he was.”