First-rate graduate programs are competitive, so it’s critical that you make an impression at the admissions office. Here are five ways to separate your app from the pack:
- 1. Follow instructions: You’d be surprised how many applicants write the essays they want to write, not the ones admissions officers request. Tailor your personal statement and other essays to the questions asked, and prove you know your audience by showing awareness of the school’s mission. Demonstrating interest in the faculty’s research can score you a few brownie points.
- 2. Show why you’re a great fit: Highlighting how you’re different from other applicants is smart, but illustrating how your unique qualities might benefit others–and further the school’s goals–is smarter. Maybe growing up with a stutter has made you a skilled listener, or perhaps living abroad has instilled an important lesson about cultural differences.
- 3. Ace entrance tests: Everyone isn’t a stellar test taker, but do everything you can to put your best foot forward, whether it’s hiring a tutor, taking a prep course, or simply getting enough rest before your exams. Strong test scores increase your chance of an acceptance letter, as well as scholarships and fellowships.
- 4. Screen references: Do your references know you well? Are they prepared to talk up the strengths you’d like admissions officers to remember most? Do they answer questions directly and succinctly, or do they tend to ramble? Ask references if they’d like you to craft a short list of talking points to consider.
- 5. Review your work: Tempting as it may be, don’t wait until the eleventh hour to file your applications. Reread every piece you intend to submit, and consider having a colleague or mentor give you feedback. Root out awkward sentences and spelling errors, and then polish each app until it shines.
Like it or not, there are only 24 hours in a day. Using them wisely is essential if you’re a grad student with kids and a demanding job. Here are seven ways to make the most of your time:
- 1. Get organized: Gather school supplies and finalize childcare arrangements well before the semester begins. Less stress means more productivity when school is in session.
- 2. Schedule smart: Avoid booking work commitments near school commitments. Request a few days off around biggies like exams and dissertation defense days, and ask colleagues for help if school and work deadlines are too close for comfort. Be sure to keep your loved ones in the loop as your calendar evolves.
- 3. Study strategically: Save time and impress your boss by turning a work project into a school project, whether it’s a social work case study or a website redesign. Use smaller chunks of time (think bus rides and lunch breaks) to read assigned articles and outline short papers.
- 4. Create a distraction-free study space: Find a quiet nook for hunkering down with your books. Minimize interruptions by placing your phone out of reach and using an app that blocks social media sites for a specified time period.
- 5. Take care of yourself: Prioritize sleep, no matter how busy you get. You’ll retain more information and think more clearly. Plus, rest helps prevent illness and grouchiness.
- 6. Lean on loved ones: Ask a spouse, parent, or neighbor to make dinner or watch the kids when you need time to focus — or recharge your batteries. Have your children help, too, even if it’s just sharpening your pencils.
- 7. Communicate: Connect with classmates to study and vent about school, and find strength in friends by sharing the triumphs and frustrations of your juggling act.
An advanced degree can unlock many doors to career advancement, but those doors won’t spring open spontaneously. Choosing the right school matters. Ask these questions when comparing grad programs.
How does your industry regard the school and program?
Rankings are just one piece of the big picture. You need to know if a grad program will increase your value in your industry. Ask colleagues which programs have the most clout in your area of specialty, and research the day-to-day work of professionals in positions you’d like to hold one day. Also find out what alumni are up to. Are they content with their careers? How soon did they find work after graduation?
What’s required of you?
It’s essential to know how much time you’ll spend meeting prerequisites, and which aspects of your program you get to design. For instance, some programs require mastery of a foreign language. Contact an academic adviser for details.
How much will it cost?
What sort of financial aid package can you expect to receive? Are scholarships and fellowships available? Speak with financial aid officers, and determine how much student loan debt you can shoulder safely.
What are the instructors’ credentials, research interests, and teaching styles?
Your teachers should hold advanced degrees from well-regarded institutions, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Have they worked in the field, and do they know how it has grown and changed recently? Do their research interests complement yours? Can you handle their teaching styles? View course syllabi for clues and, if possible, observe some classes.
Will the program expand your professional network?
You’ll have a leg up on job opportunities if you use grad school to grow your professional network. Is there an alumni group with members in cities where you’d like to work? How helpful is the school’s career office?
In many industries, an advanced degree is a reliable way to jumpstart your career. That’s because the process of earning the degree is just as important as the degree itself. Here are five career boosters you’re likely to gain along the way:
- 1. New skills: Concrete skills, such as fluency in a programming language, can beef up your resume. Harder-to-quantify ones, like group facilitation and public speaking, may prepare you for new roles by polishing your professional demeanor.
- 2. Helpful mentors: There’s no substitute for experience, and mentors typically have it. Even if you’ve been working in your industry for a while, a good mentor can provide useful advice and help you navigate tough situations with aplomb. Mentors who inspire you are worth their weight in gold, whether you’re seeking employment in a difficult market or craving confidence during the interview process.
- 3. Bigger, better network: Grad school is an ideal place to meet and learn from your industry’s current leaders. It’s also a great venue for finding its next superstars. Even if you don’t nab your dream job immediately, a classmate might race up the career ladder and then want you as a colleague — or business partner — a few years later.
- 4. More job opportunities: Getting to know professionals at a broader set of organizations can lead to more job offers. So can connecting with more people in decision-making roles. Grad schools host mixers, lectures, and other events that make it easy to exchange ideas — and business cards — with numerous industry leaders.
- 5. Enhanced perspective: Taking time to reflect upon your professional experiences can help you strengthen your weaker areas and develop your leadership potential. Dissecting thorny professional issues with others is an excellent teamwork exercise, plus a chance to tone your problem-solving muscles.
A master’s can boost your earnings in the long term, but what about paying the bills in the short term? Here are five tips for funding your degree:
- Choose loans wisely: With low interest rates, federal Stafford and Perkins loans are the building blocks of many financial aid packages, but they might not cover all of your expenses. Private loans are a convenient way to fill the gap but have fewer safeguards than federal PLUS loans, which are designed to pay for grad student necessities like housing and books. When loan shopping, compare origination fees and repayment terms as well as interest rates, and consider all of your financial responsibilities. A private loan might make sense for a renter with a lucrative job offer tied to a master’s, but not someone with kids, a mortgage, and a fuzzier picture of post-degree employment.
- Claim credit: Trim up to $2,000 from your federal tax bill each year you’re in school with the Lifetime Learning Credit. See if you qualify for this credit or the Tuition and Fees Deduction with the Internal Revenue Service’s education app.
- Scour scholarship databases: Fastweb and Peterson’s have searchable databases brimming with scholarship opportunities for grad students. Increase your chances of success by applying for scholarships tailored to your career path and distinctive aspects of your personal history.
- Ask your employer to help: Some employers offer tuition assistance or scholarships, but they don’t always advertise them. Ask your human resources department if these perks are available. If the answer is no, show how similar employers use them to recruit and retain top talent.
- Turn expertise into cash: Have strong Spanish skills or a killer SAT score? Find tutoring jobs online or at a local test-prep center. The hours are flexible, and the work can be lucrative. Subject-matter knowledge may also lead to paid mentoring opportunities, writing gigs, and expert witness appearances.
$48 for Detroit-Themed Track Jacket and Long-Sleeved Thermal Shirt from Fist of Detroit Apparel ($96 Value)
Shopping for clothing can be like finding a needle in a haystack: even when you think you’ve found what you’re looking for, you’ve actually only found a really shiny piece of hay. Today’s Groupon tilts the odds of a successful fashion quest in your favor: for $48, you get a track jacket and a long-sleeved thermal shirt from Fist of Detroit Apparel (a $96 value).
Fist of Detroit’s urban apparel celebrates the city’s 8,000-pound sculpture of boxer Joe Louis’s fist and the fighting spirit the piece represents. Today’s Groupon outfits buyers in a unisex La Brea track jacket and a thermal shirt comfier than slippers lined with warm, fuzzy compliments. Available in red, black, or navy, the jacket swathes bodies in 100% combed ring-spun cotton, contrast piping, side-welt pockets, and an easy-to-locate center-front zipper. The garment has been preshrunk and prelaundered, preventing it from sizing down in the dryer or painting rainbows on skivvies in the washing machine. The long-sleeved thermal hugs physiques with a 60/40 cotton-poly blend trimmed with contrast reverse coverstitch on the neck, sleeves, and bottom hem.
With a waffle-weave knit in sun-luring navy or black, the shirt helps lock in heat on cold winter days. A fist graphic with a choice of two statements—the city motto in Latin graffiti or a saucy “This is what we do”—emblazons the front of each jacket and shirt, inspiring wearers to flaunt their Detroit pride and sucker-punch the mayors of rival cities.
Researching colleges is a journey filled with decisions, challenges, and at least a little anxiety. UW Journey, a new smartphone app from UW HELP, aims to make this process as smooth and positive as possible. Designed to show students which UW System campuses are best suited to their needs, it gives them confidence that they will thrive at the school they choose. It’s also a great tool for school counselors working with college-bound students.
The experience begins with questions about the student’s academic and extracurricular interests. Students also indicate the campus size they prefer, the type of community they’d like to live in, the housing options they’re seeking, and whether they want to attend for two years or four. UW Journey then reveals which of the 26 UW System campuses best match these preferences. Students “find their fit” as they compare campus details side by side.
In addition to personalizing the college-search process, UW Journey introduces students to UW System campuses they might not have considered. It helps them determine their next steps as well. Campus-tour information pushes them to visit schools that interest them. A “pay for college” section encourages them to explore the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), make note of financial aid preferred filing dates, and learn about loans, scholarships, and campus employment. There’s even an interactive college-application checklist filled with information about personal statements, school transcripts, ACT and SAT test scores, application fees, and important dates and deadlines.
The UW Journey app can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. However, a smartphone is not required to take advantage of this resource. The UW Journey website offers the same experience on a computer or tablet.
Randy Brandner had a problem. The Merrill Chamber of Commerce had outgrown its office space, and people were looking to him, its president, for answers. Luckily, he found a solution with the help of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Executive MBA program. His story recently appeared in Project 72, part of the university’s All Ways Forward fundraising campaign.
During his Executive MBA studies, Brandner learned that charitable organizations can receive gifts such as donated property. He knew of a local building that was eligible for donation and would meet the chamber’s needs, so he proposed creating the Merrill Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
“Without my UW-Madison experience, I never would have suggested setting up the foundation,” he says.
Before long the foundation came to fruition, and Brandner served as its inaugural president. It has since become a pillar of the Merrill community. In addition to participating in civic beautification programs and local parks initiatives on a regular basis, the organization helped victims of a tornado that struck Lincoln County in 2011.
Brandner says the Executive MBA program also helped him advance his career at Church Mutual Insurance Company, where he serves as vice president of product management. The program was particularly useful in fostering “new awareness related to business and the interconnectivity of business organizations throughout the world,” he says.
Recently named to The Economist’s list of top Executive MBA offerings, the UW-Madison program features internationally recognized faculty and a close-knit community of experienced business professionals eager to enhance their leadership skills. In addition to studying management theories and current issues affecting the business world, students grow their networks at classes that meet every other weekend. Upon graduation nearly 80% of Executive MBA alumni say they’ve received a promotion or grown their own company, and two years later their salaries have increased an average of 71%.
For more information about the Executive MBA program, see here.
When Continuing Studies’ Barbara Nehls-Lowe learned Tagalog, she was living in the Philippines, serving in the Peace Corps. Then she returned to the U.S., where learning a language was much harder. For years she studied Spanish, which is useful for her work with the Wisconsin HIV Outreach Project, but she never found her way. Things changed when she signed up for Continuing Studies language courses.
Nehls-Lowe and several family members wanted to see her daughter Amanda, who lives in Sicily with her husband. When they planned the trip, they had no idea they’d become honorary members of another family, that of Luisa Gregori.
“Amanda’s husband, Oliver, is an attorney in the Navy’s JAG Corps. Since he’s stationed in Sicily for three years, I thought, ‘Now’s the time to learn some Italian. I told my husband, Henry, and we decided to take a class together through Continuing Studies,” she says.
That’s when the couple met Gregori, their teacher. She showed them how to say hello and goodbye, introduce each other, and order wine. She also got them excited about learning more Italian. Nehls-Lowe has taken additional classes since.
“Luisa understands adult learning, and she made her class very fun and comfortable. It was a fabulous experience,” Nehls-Lowe says.
Adult-centered language learning
Sage Goellner knows it can be intimidating to learn a language as an adult. That’s one reason the French professor joined Continuing Studies, where she directs a set of the language programs.
“We strive to make our courses as gracious and convivial as possible, and there’s generally a lot of repetition and humor,” she says. “There are no exams and homework is minimal. Whatever effort students put into the class will be equal to what they get out of it, no matter if they want to travel or simply practice a new skill.”
Semester-long courses for beginners teach skills that can vastly improve an international trip: understanding basic directions, deciphering a weather report, and reserving a hotel room, to name a few. Students also develop cultural competency by reading news, discussing customs, and exploring art, history, and music.
In Italian 1, for example, students get acquainted with Italian coffee culture.
“In cafés, most Italians drink their coffee (always espresso unless you specify otherwise) standing up at the counter (al banco). It can cost a lot more if you have it while seated at a table. Italians also only drink cappuccino in the morning and frown upon drinking milk after a meal. Knowing little things like these can mitigate that ‘fish out of water’ feeling while traveling,” Goellner says.
A different way of life
Class was just the beginning of Nehls-Lowe’s introduction to Italian culture. When she and her husband invited their teacher to dinner, the next leg of the adventure began.
“We took Luisa out to dinner to get to know her better,” Nehls-Lowe recalls. “When she heard we were going to Italy this summer, she said, ‘I’ll be home. You have to stay with me!’”
After convincing the couple her offer was serious, Gregori met up with their group in Tuscany and took them to her family’s home.
“Tuscany was the highlight of our trip: being at Luisa’s house, meeting her parents, being surrounded by all sorts of fruit trees—lemons, limes, nectarines, olives. Spending time with these wonderful people in such a beautiful place enriched our experience of Italy. They have such a different way of life, so peaceful and quiet and connected to the land,” Nehls-Lowe says.
Though Gregori’s parents speak little English, they made the group feel at home among the fruit trees, where the family make their own olive oil and farm-to-table means “See that nectarine tree? Pick some fruit, then enjoy it right here in our backyard.”
Gregori also took the group to several of her favorite Tuscan towns and Cinque Terre, a collection of centuries-old villages on the Italian Riviera.
“We crammed ourselves into a car stuffed with nectarines, prosciutto, cheese, olives, and other treats from Luisa’s family and then drove to Cinque Terre on some very curvy roads with no guardrails,” Nehls-Lowe says. “It was terrifying and beautiful. The cliffs are really steep, and you can see the sea below.”
During their four-day sojourn by the sea, Nehls-Lowe’s younger daughter, Abby, mentioned she had an appointment with a tattoo artist in Milan.
“She told me she was getting a tattoo. I said, ‘I’m in,” without a second thought, even though I had zero tattoos.”
In addition to visiting Tuscany and Cinque Terre, Nehls-Lowe’s group explored Florence and Venice. On the way to Milan, they glimpsed George Clooney’s villa on Lake Como, and when they reached the city, Nehls-Lowe kept her promise. She now has a permanent souvenir on her ankle: an olive-branch tattoo.
To learn more about Continuing Studies’ language programs, see here or contact Goellner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP) has announced the winners of 42 prestigious awards as part of its juried state exhibition, which runs through Sept. 23 at the Center for the Visual Arts in Wausau. The painting pictured at the top of this story is “Night at Machu Picchu” by Judy Buzzell of Delevan. See the gallery below for photos of nine more award-winning pieces.
WRAP is a University of Wisconsin–Madison program that encourages adults to create visual art, share it with their communities, and connect with fellow nonprofessional artists. Participants show their work at regional exhibitions, where they receive feedback from experts and build their art knowledge at workshops and presentations. Professional artists give state awards to outstanding work from these events. Artists who win these awards may show their work at the state exhibition, where they compete for nearly $5,000 in prize money.
“These awards recognizes artistic excellence and gives nonprofessional artists a statewide audience for their work,” says WRAP Director Liese Pfeifer. “These artists also have their work judged by Margaret LeMay, a nationally renowned artist, consultant, and gallery director, when they exhibit at the state level.”
The state exhibition culminates in a conference that kicks off Friday, September 22, at 6 p.m., with a fundraising gala at the Center for the Visual Arts. The evening’s highlight is Tiny Treasures, an exhibition featuring works that measure 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. Attendees may purchase these slight delights, with proceeds going to WRAP and the Wisconsin Regional Artists Association (WRAA). Selected artists win cash prizes and see their work reproduced in a calendar. The conference also includes award ceremonies, learning opportunities, and a speech by LeMay.
WRAP began as the Wisconsin Rural Art Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1940. Its first director, painter John Steuart Curry, founded it to foster creativity in rural areas. Now part of UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies, WRAP hosts its annual exhibition and conference with WRAA, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to supporting nonprofessional artists.
Few bands have been able to infuse Americana music with a sense of the sublime quite like the husband-and-wife duo the Handsome Family. Channeling the witty verve of Edward Gorey, Rennie Sparks’ story-poems, set to Brett Sparks’ melodies and baritone voice, speak of burying the dead, reveries in psychiatric wards and mysterious signs of comfort from nature.
Isthmus recently spoke with Rennie Sparks about the band’s enigmatic moniker, its new album, Honey Moon, and Santa Claus’ evil twin.
What are the origins of the band’s name?
We used to be in this other guy’s band, and he’d call Brett handsome all the time. Then, Brett’s parents, when we got married, got us this subscription to Reader’s Digest, and when it arrived, the name on the label said “Handsome Spjinki.” Everyone started calling him that, and the band grew out of it.
Many of your songs tap into the fantastic tradition of English and Scandinavian murder ballads, and you’ve mentioned in interviews that you were brought up believing Santa is a pretty evil guy. Has this led to any songs about the Krampus, the demonic Santa?
I have a friend from Finland who says Santa’s clothing is made out of reindeer skins soaked in blood, and I’ve heard that in Holland he’s got black slaves carrying the presents instead of reindeer, so he’s definitely got a dark side.
My parents were brought up as religious Jews in a time where kids their age were being thrown into the oven for being Jewish, so they tried to keep us blissfully ignorant of holidays and things like Santa. My mother once told me that Santa Claus started World War II, and though I don’t think he’s a bad person anymore, I haven’t written about him.
There’s a death theme running through many of your lyrics, but not so much on Honey Moon. What’s up with that?
This record is more about love. I’ve always wanted to write a whole record of love songs, but it’s trickier to write about the transcendent rather than the abyss. When you hear a great love song — not a sappy, trite one — it can change you a little bit. We’d been listening to a lot of Platters and Mills Brothers, so that got us thinking about romanticism even more than love, and all the heightened emotions and connections to nature that go along with it.
Considering how many 20-somethings still live under their parents’ roofs, it’s easy to laugh at the notion of a quarter-life crisis. However, for 23-year-old folk musician Joe Pug, existential angst is no joke. Plus, it struck before he was old enough to work it out over a beer.
“I remember sitting down for a cup of coffee and thinking, ‘I am profoundly unhappy here,'” he says of his experience at the University of North Carolina, where, until recently, he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in playwriting. Within weeks of this realization, he made his way to Chicago, got work as a carpenter and began composing songs.
By nearly all accounts, the shift from playwriting to songwriting has been a success: Pug’s lyrics have garnered praise for getting audiences to slow down and think — really think — amidst the hyperactive multitasking that’s so difficult to avoid if you have an iPhone, a Blackberry or even a simple e-mail account. This quality stems in part from a commitment to old-fashioned, pen-and-paper songwriting techniques and a focus on human problems that are pretty timeless: greed, loneliness and the passage of time.
Pug says playwriting allowed him to explore these themes, but the medium didn’t fit his message the way he’d hoped.
“I looked at some of the plays the people around me were writing and felt that I could never write those kinds of plays. Eventually I realized that what I was doing should take a different form,” he says.
To start, Pug took an outline for a play he was writing and restructured its ideas into lyrical stories much like those that launched the careers of John Prine and Bob Dylan. He set these poems to music, added a minimalist guitar track, and an EP called Nation of Heat soon emerged.
With lyrics like “I say the more I buy, the more I’m bought / And the more I’m bought, the less I cost,” the EP quickly caught the attention of the Chicago’s roots-music community, as well as the producers of NPR’s Second Stage program, who featured his song “Hymn #101” in October.
Meanwhile, Pug’s been touring the country, opening for Rhett Miller’s East Coast gigs earlier this month and the BoDeans’ Dec. 26 show at the Barrymore.
He’s also turned an unfortunate twist of fate — a pink slip at the carpentry job — into a music-making opportunity, using his time between shows to prepare material for a new full-length album.
In fact, realizing how many people have been laid off of late, he’s decided to offer free copies of three of his songs on his website, as well as a sampler disc to those who e-mail email@example.com.
“It’s been great getting the word out,” he says. “I hope I can stay laid off for the rest of my life.”
Though he’s named after outlaw country legend Townes Van Zandt and is the son of the genre’s current torchbearer Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle doesn’t lurk in their shadows. His new album, Midnight at the Movies, a melancholy journey from one corner of the Americana landscape to another, might be the most critically praised album of 2009, earning near-perfect marks from Paste, Mojo and Rolling Stone.
I spoke with him last week as he geared up for Bloodshot Records’ Beer-B-Q. The sold-out show sizzles the High Noon’s stage Aug. 22.
What are you looking forward to most about the Beer-B-Q?
Getting together with some good folks and catching my breath. I tour so much that I don’t get to see a lot of other Bloodshot artists, so this’ll be a good chance to catch up.
Are you a big barbecue fan offstage?
Not really. I do like barbecue, but I don’t like being behind the barbecue. I know so many people who are better at it than me.
Tell me about the process of making Midnight at the Movies.
It had only been seven months since I released The Good Life, and I had been on tour all year, so we blew through this one like a whirlwind. I played a show the night before we started recording it and had to leave twice during recording to play shows, so it was a huge relief to sit on my ass for a little while.
You’ve been pretty open about having your own fall from grace — a drug habit — when you were younger. How has getting clean shaped your approach to music making?
I was a raging heroin addict for most of my life, but there’s something so personal about it that even as someone who’s admittedly a “personal” songwriter, it’s not for the whole world to know about. I did my best to make sure the process of getting clean didn’t have an impact on my music.
You list the Pogues as an influence. What do you like best about them?
Shane MacGowan is one of the best songwriters around: His use of imagery is fantastic, and I’ve liked If I Should Fall From Grace With God for a really long time.
What’s another musician you consider an influence but that your fans might not expect?
George Michael. His Faith record is one of the best there is, and “Faith” is an amazing rock song.
In the world of electronic music, Matthew Dear is known for making sharp-edged Detroit house and other dance-floor dazzle under three monikers: Audion, False and Jabberjaw.
Yet when Dear records under his real name, anything goes. While his first full-length album, 2003’s Leave Luck to Heaven, revolved around minimalist techno masterpieces, he’s been emphasizing his songwriting skills over his DJing and production talents as of late. Black City, his newest release, ranges from funky, synthy, vocal-driven pop to dark, house-inspired dance-rock. Plus, he performs it with a live band, not a computer.
I recently spoke with Dear about the album, the live show and his curious collection of appellations.
How do you keep your many identities straight?
In the past, having different names and identities was just a way to get music out there. The identity I used was a reflection of what I was feeling that day in the studio. If I was feeling like a weird, minimal techno song, I’d have that come out under an alias. It was a way of organizing the many different types of music flooding out of me at that time.
I think you surprised a lot of fans by starting a band and becoming its front man. Why did you decide to go that direction with your live act?
I didn’t want to go onstage with a laptop and microphone and rehash the synthetics of an album. A live performance deserves more in terms of presentation, so now I have a trumpet player and a synthesizer player. [A band] gives the music more life onstage, and it’s more engaging for me to have to remix and rethink what the songs can be.
What surprised you most about Black City after you finished it?
When I compared it to [2007’s] Asa Breed, I was like, “Wow, this is so much darker and slower. Why did everything get so dark all of a sudden?” I was pretty happy with that, and I think it became darker and slower because I was concentrating a bit more on the nuances than before.
Belting out such lyrics as “I can’t have my cake and eat it too, so I gonna get up and walk out on you,” funk-soul luminary Sharon Jones sounds like anything but a goody two-shoes. But like many divas before her, she was an angel when she discovered her pipes.
“I was somewhere between 5 and 8 years old when I played an angel at church, an itty-bitty angel with wings and a halo over my head,” she recalls. “One time we did ‘Silent Night,’ and a lady at church said, ‘Ooh-ooh, that little girl can sing.’ That’s where it all began.”
After struggling for recognition for years, Jones traded in the halo for a crown in her late 30s. While doing a set of background vocals for ’70s soul superstar Lee Fields about 13 years ago, she recorded a rap on top of a song called “Switchblade,” which became a favorite among deep-funk DJs in the United Kingdom. Though her voice on the track was slowed down to sound like a man’s, music industry bigwigs found out who she was and she soon found herself opening for Maceo Parker in London.
“So here I am, singing in London, and the next thing you know, someone asks me if I know who the Queen of Funk is,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t know, who?’ and they were like, ‘It’s you!’ Turns out a magazine there called Big Daddy had gone and given me the name.”
Jones’ career blossomed after joining forces with The Dap-Kings, the house band for the Daptone Records label. The band’s old-school funk and soul sounds recall James Brown and Otis Redding and are the secret weapon on recent albums by Amy Winehouse and Kanye West.
Meanwhile, with Jones, The Dap-Kings have revamped Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” as a ’60s-style funk jam and brought life to classics such as “How Do I Let a Good Man Down?” and “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?” The group’s latest recording, 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights, burrows deep into the tradition of late-’60s soul, especially Motown.
Jones says the soulful U-turn doesn’t make her or the band any less funky; if anything, it makes them more true to their roots — and their musical gifts.
“We’ve made it this far because we stuck with what we believe in, whether it’s James Brown, Tina Turner, Aretha or Otis,” she says. “I’ve always been able to imitate these people, but no one had to teach me how to sing soul. That was all me.”