Gospel singer and founding pastor of New Thing Empowerment Church, Shawn Jones, began singing with his band of believers shortly after 8 p.m. at The Event Center in Pensacola, Florida, on Saturday. Shortly after Jones began singing "Worthy Is He," he fatally collapsed on stage leaving his fans in shock. He was just 32.
"They were doing a fantastic job. It was a nice show," Kenneth Woodson, manager of The Event Center, recalled to The Christian Post of the Shawn Jones & The Believers band Monday evening.
A video of the group performing their opening song, posted to Facebook by Denise Headen, shows the nattily dressed preacher belting a song about Jesus' faithfulness while audience members swayed and clapped along with them.
It was Woodson's first time hearing Jones sing. In fact, before Saturday he had never even heard of the preacher. Almost as soon as Jones began singing, however, Woodson recognized something special.
"This fellow was blowing. It had a little jazzy feel to it and this was my first time hearing him but I was very impressed. I said 'wow this is gonna be nice. I can't wait to hear some more music from this guy and his band.' They were tight," Woodson said.
On his church's website, Jones is described as a doting father of three who was "happily married" to his wife, Dominica. He was also "a prolific speaker" who was "in high demand in many parts of the country." And it appears his star had been rising.
"I DONT KNOW WHO THIS MAN OF GOD IS BUT SAAAAAAAAAANNNGGGG SIR!!!!! I CANT GIVE UP!!! IVE COME TOO FAR TO TURN AROUND!!!!! .....FOUND HIM," Keys wrote in an Instagram post littered with praise emojis to her 180,000 followers Friday evening.
She tagged Jones in the post and many of her followers reacted to the preacher's singing and his message with equal excitement. Some even became instant fans and followed him. Jones was humbled.
"Mannnn when my favorite female singer TWEET likes and post my joint!! GEEKED!" he replied to Tweet's acknowledgement.
On Saturday, hours before the final performance of his life at The Event Center, Jones posted a photo of his band just "hanging out on the beach" at the Portofino Island Resort. Everything was going well.
Woodson told CP that Jones and his band were the closing act for the anniversary celebration of another band known as The Gospel Singingaires which had started about 5 p.m. on Saturday.
After finishing up their first song, the group began singing "Worthy Is He." It's a song they had performed many times before. They continued impressing the audience until Jones started having trouble.
"I guess the young man got hot. He took some water and he drank some more water (for a second time), sat down and was speaking and he passed out," Woodson said.
"Everyone went into shock. I think everybody did what they felt was right in trying to revive him until the EMT got here. It was a shock because he is a young man," he continued.
Woodson said sorrow quickly filled the room where Jones was performing but the audience of "99 percent church folks" kept their composure as they prayed while desperately trying to revive the preacher.
"They contained themselves well and they were praying for him in their own little spirit. They took him to the back and were trying to revive him but then of course the sorrow was in the building," the manager said. "There were several medical people in the building and they tried to revive him. They tried to do what they could for him before the EMT got there."
It's unclear what caused Jones' death. The preacher's bandmates did not reply to a request for comment.
The Echoaires band from Memphis, Tennessee, who appear to have been at the Saturday event, said Jones died of a heart attack.
"He was truly a man of God. He had a heart attack after performing in Florida Saturday night. Rest well my friend and brother. We will always love you @theshawnjones85," the group said on Instagram.
Yashica LaRease Williams, who identified herself as the preacher's cousin, told mourners on Instagram that he suffered a stroke and lamented her final moments with him.
"It's hard to wrap my head around the thought that I will never see your smile again. I was just joking and talking to you Tuesday telling you, 'You need to sit down somewhere' and your response with a big grin was 'I promise I'm going to slow down lil cuz' and we both laughed and I said, 'No you won't. You'll be in another state by the weekend.' And you laughed and said 'you 'bout right.' If only then I knew that would be my last time talking to you I would have hugged you a little longer or remembered to take a picture with you," Williams wrote.
"Your passing has not only devastated the ones that know you, not even just the people of Alabama, but hundreds and thousands around the country. You had such a loving spirit that people enjoyed being in the presence of and a beautiful talent that touched many hearts. Rest Easy Shawn! You will truly be missed!" she added.
In an interview with CP Monday from Jones' family home, Brandy Lee-Harris, another cousin, said his wife and children "are holding on pretty well considering the whole situation."
"He was extremely talented and humble which is kinda what I think helps. He was like one of your friends before you even got to know him," Harris said.
"He had very strong familial roots. He's been talented from the crib. It was his destiny to do what he's done. He always was singing at home. He was always preaching in front of somebody (growing up)," she continued.
"It was always what he wanted to do. It wasn't a job. It was his passion. He was driven and he was driven by his passion and wanted to reach as many people as he could. So I think it was his drive that kept him going," she said.
And after seeing him alive for just a few minutes on stage Saturday, Woodson agrees.
"From my perspective, I tell everybody, that man died doing something he loved. It was not [a death at] no bar, got beat up, got ran over by a car ... he died doing something he loved," the manager said.