Sharon Jones, 57
After years of chasing a career in the music biz, this former Rikers Island corrections officer was plucked from obscurity by Daptone Records cofounder Gabriel Roth when he hired her to sing backup vocals for Lee Fields. A pancreatic cancer diagnosis last year pushed the release of her new record, Give the People What They Want, up to January. The album has sold 60,000 copies and has even found its way to Starbucks, which makes Jones’s return to the stage a triumph in more ways than one.
Charles Bradley, 65
His life could be a movie: A James Brown impersonator grabs the attention of a record label executive and scores a deal. But it’s his 2013 release, Victim of Love, and funky live performances that have propelled Bradley’s gravel-coated croon into the international spotlight.
Otis Clay, 72
After years belting it out in gospel groups in Mississippi and Muncie, Clay settled in Chicago in 1957. He recorded several R&B singles in the ’60s, but his biggest single “Trying to Live My Life Without You” hit the airwaves in 1972. Forty-one years later, the indie label Fat Possum reissued the LP, giving the singer a second chance in the spotlight.
Renaldo Domino, 64
Domino is not his real last name but refers to his candy-coated singing voice, said to rival the sweetness of Domino sugar. The Calumet High School grad recorded a few singles in the late 1960s but didn’t make his mark until The Numero Group unearthed his songs for a couple of compilations, 45 reissues, and its 2009 Eccentric Soul Revue.
James Hunter, 51
Raised in Essex, England, this singer has a fan in Van Morrison, whom he toured with for four years in the ’90s. Hunter released some of his strongest material yet with 2013’s Minute by Minute, an homage to poppy ’60s soul, much of which he’ll perform at SPACE in Evanston on July 1.
Syl Johnson, 77
The Bronzeville singer and guitarist was all but forgotten until crate-digging producers spliced his soulful offerings into hip-hop tracks, including Cypress Hill’s 1993 “Lock Down (Interlude).” Johnson scored big again in 2010 with a lengthy reissue of his early catalog by the local archival record company The Numero Group.
Bettye Lavette, 68
This Detroit diva, whose sound mixes soul, funk, gospel, and blues, recorded nearly 35 singles before 2005’s I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise attracted national attention. Thanks to a new generation of fans, many of whom will surely turn up for her performance at the Chicago Blues Festival in June, LaVette is staging a second act.