Prince Joins Sharon Jones for ‘When I Come Home': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
Prince was notoriously reluctant to suffer fools, and could throw shade with the best of them — but he also wasn't shy about beating the drum for artists whose work he respected, as soul singer Sharon Jones was thrilled to discover in 2011.
An inspirational story for any artist who's ever struggled to hang onto their dreams, Jones enjoyed an unlikely ascension to stardom relatively late in life. When a '70s stab at a recording career failed to yield results, she paid the bills with unrelated work — like serving as an armored car guard — while cutting the occasional background vocal. In the mid-'90s, she finally caught the right ears, so impressing producers on another artist's session that she ended up with her own solo deal. Her debut LP, 2002's Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, earned positive reviews, prompting a string of releases that sent her into the Top 40 and and brought her a Grammy nomination for 2015's Give the People What They Want album.
But before the Grammys came calling, Prince said hello. As Jones told the Baltimore Sun in 2011, he reached out to her after seeing her play with her band, the Dap-Kings. "He was walking in Austin and he saw us perform, and he told me, "'Girl, you took me to church,’” she recalled. "That was my first 'I don't know what to do with myself' moment."
That first moment would soon be followed with another, when Prince invited Jones to open for him at Madison Square Garden. Backstage at that show, she remembered him reserving special praise for her song "When I Come Home," telling her he hadn't "heard a funk song that groovy" for 25 years. It wasn't just lip service, either, as he proved when he strolled out on stage in the middle of a Jones show in Paris several months later.
As captured in footage embedded above, Prince made his presence known in typically sly fashion, popping out with his back to the audience before playing for a couple of minutes — and then vanishing just as quickly as he came. For Jones, the surprise cameo seemed to be just as surreal — and valuable — as their other interactions.
"He would’ve played longer, but he dropped his pick," Jones told Entertainment Weekly. "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. That’s the type of person he was."
Even beyond the gift of exposure — and the thrill of playing together — Prince offered Jones a critical lesson that ranks among the most difficult, and valuable, for any artist. As she also told EW, the question of what to ask for in terms of compensation for the Madison Square Garden gig proved difficult, and Prince's response stuck with her.
"I don’t want to ask for too much and he’ll say, ‘Man, y’all must be crazy, I’ll get somebody else,'" she remembered telling her manager. Her fears ended up being unfounded — not only was their number matched, Prince added an extra $5,000. "Prince taught us a lesson," said Jones. "‘Hey, this is what you guys are worth.'"