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Sister Sledge is an American musical vocal group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formed in 1971, the group consisted of sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge. Symbolizing strong family values, the siblings achieved international success at the height of the disco era. The year 1979 saw the release of their breakthrough album We Are Family, which peaked at number three on the US Album Chart and went Platinum. The album included the 1979 single "We Are Family" which reached number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 and earned them a Grammy Award nomination, together with two other 1979 top 20 international hits "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "Lost in Music".
Sister Sledge (Kim, Debbie and Joni) in New York City, New York, September 2015.
|Also known as||The Sledge Sisters|
|Origin||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
Their other US hits include a 1982 remake of Mary Wells' 1964 hit, "My Guy", and other international hits include "Mama Never Told Me" (1973), "Thinking of You" (1984), before reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart with the song "Frankie" in 1985. Remixed versions of three of their singles in 1993 returned them to the UK Top 20. Following Kathy's departure in 1989, the group then operated as a trio (with Kathy occasionally re-joining for one-off performances and several releases in the 1990s) until Joni's death in 2017. In 2015, Sister Sledge performed for Pope Francis at the World Festival of Families in Philadelphia.
Daughters of Broadway tap dancer Edwin Sledge (1923–1996) and actress Florez Sledge (1928–2007), Debbie Sledge (born July 9, 1954), Joni Sledge (September 13, 1956 – March 10, 2017), Kim Sledge (born August 21, 1957) and Kathy Sledge (born January 6, 1959) were given vocal training by their grandmother Viola Williams, a former lyric soprano opera singer and protégé of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune. Under Viola’s guidance they regularly sang at their family church, Williams Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) until forming a band and performing at charity and political events throughout Philadelphia, aptly named ‘Mrs Williams’ Grandchildren’.
The group toured much of the East Coast including New York, New Jersey and home town Philadelphia with Florez acting as their manager (and tour bus driver) and Debbie as musical director. They released their first single "Time Will Tell" in 1971 on local music label Money Back. In 1973, they released the single "Mama Never Told Me", which became a top 20 hit in the UK in 1975, but it was with the Patrick Grant & Gwen Guthrie single "Love Don’t Go Through No Changes On Me" (released in 1974) that the siblings enjoyed their first taste of success. The song was a big hit in Japan and as a result the girls were flown to the country to perform at the Tokyo Music Festival where they won the Silver Prize. The sisters also performed at the Zaire 74 concert in Africa alongside James Brown during The Rumble in the Jungle boxing event.
Sister Sledge’s first album Circle of Love was released by ATCO (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records) in 1975 and included songs written by Gwen Guthrie and Gwen's then-boyfriend, studio bassist Patrick Grant. The group enjoyed some success in Europe and as a result, the album Together was recorded in Germany in 1977. Released through the Cotillion label, another Atlantic subsidiary, the album produced a minor hit with the single "Blockbuster Boy" reaching No. 61 on the US R&B chart. Nearing the end of the decade all four sisters graduated.
At something of a crossroads in their careers, the future seemed a little uncertain for the group but Atlantic Records connected them with producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the band Chic, and all that changed. After some initial challenges in working collaboratively, the breakthrough album We Are Family was recorded and released by Cotillion. The lead single "He’s the Greatest Dancer" charted at No. 1 R&B and was a No. 9 crossover hit. In 1979, the record's anthemic title track "We Are Family" followed and became a worldwide smash charting at No. 2 pop and No. 1 R&B. The song and group were nominated for a Grammy Award and "We Are Family" was adopted as the official anthem for The Pittsburgh Pirates who went on to win the World Series that year. Sister Sledge were duly invited to perform the national anthem at the opening game in front of 45,000 fans. The album was certified platinum by the RIAA and produced two more classic disco singles, "Lost in Music" and "Thinking of You". Around this time, Debbie Sledge went on maternity leave and the eldest sister, Carol, filled in for her. The group were also named as Billboards ‘Best New Artists’. In 1980, their follow up album Love Somebody Today (also written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards) was released. The lead single "Love Somebody Today" scored moderately well, charting at No. 6 on R&B and No. 64 on the pop chart. An extensive three-year live tour began and the quartet performed sold-out shows all over the world.
In 1981, Sister Sledge worked with Narada Michael Walden who produced their fifth studio album, All American Girls. The project was intended as a collaboration but the resulting album is generally attributed to Narada Michael Walden. The title track became a number-three R&B hit but the following singles "Next Time You’ll Know" and "If You Really Want Me" did only moderate business. As a tribute to the late Bob Marley, a reggae influenced mix of the album's fourth release "He's Just A Runaway" was recorded at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The girls self-produced their next record The Sisters in 1982. The album spawned the No. 14 R&B and No. 23 pop hit "My Guy" (a cover of the Mary Wells classic). The group subsequently appeared on a popular episode of The Jeffersons, in which they performed the song.
Continued European successEdit
The album Bet Cha Say That to All the Girls was released in 1983, the lead single from which featured American Jazz singer Al Jarreau. The group experienced some considerable success in 1984, when they re-released "Thinking of You" and "Lost in Music" in the UK, the latter peaking at No. 4. The following year saw the release of their 7th studio album When the Boys Meet the Girls and continued success in the UK. Released by Atlantic Records, lead single "Frankie" hit the top spot on the UK Singles Chart, spending four weeks at No. 1 and consequently going Gold.
In 1989, Kathy left the group to pursue a solo career. Debbie, Joni and Kim continued to perform as Sister Sledge and in 1992 collaborated with Bluey from UK acid jazz group Incognito on the single "World Rise and Shine". The song featured on their greatest hits album And Now…Sledge…Again. The single reached No. 1 in Italy and resulted in the trio hosting their own TV show there. The group (including Kathy) experienced a resurgence of success in the UK the following year when the Sure as Pure remix of "We Are Family" was released and peaked at No. 5, followed by remixes of "Lost in Music" (#14) and "Thinking of You" (#17). A greatest hits album, The Very Best of Sister Sledge 1973–93, was also released. In 1996, after witnessing a shooting in LA, Joni Sledge wrote the protest song "Brother, Brother stop" that was recorded by the trio and featured on a new greatest hits CD. In 1997, Joni produced the group's 8th studio album African Eyes, that garnered critical acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy as best produced CD.
In December 2000, Sister Sledge performed at The White House for the President and First Lady at the final Christmas party of the Clinton Administration. The following year, in the aftermath of 9/11, all four sisters re-recorded "We Are Family" as a benefit record with a host of other artists, including Diana Ross and Patti Labelle. Debbie, Joni and Kim produced solo material during this period before being reunited in the studio to record the album Style in 2003. Due to legal difficulties, the project officially remains unreleased. Kim, an ordained minister, took some time out from the group and Joni and Debbie continued to tour (with various guest artists, including Debbie's daughter Camille Sledge, completing a trio), and in 2005 performed on the famous pyramid stage at the Glastonbury Music Festival in the UK. In 2011, Kathy was invited to rejoin them for a one-off appearance on the "Women Who Rock" episode of Oprah Winfrey's talk show.
In 2014, Debbie and Joni headlined at the Tramlines festival in Sheffield, UK along with hip-hop icons, Public Enemy and collaborated with Scottish electronic producer The Revenge, recording the track "Stay A While" in London. With Kim re-joining in 2015, all three sisters performed at a large scale charity benefit in London for Save the Children and were invited to perform for Pope Francis along with Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli at The World Festival of Families in Philadelphia, PA: the latter performance - at Eakins Oval Stage on September 26, 2015 - was covered by the worlds media and went viral due to crowds of nuns in the audience dancing to "We Are Family" (Debbie did not participate in this performance). Debbie, Joni and Kim soon thereafter launched the brand concept, Nothing Is Greater Than Love.
Joni Sledge, born September 13, 1956, died of natural causes at her home in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday, March 10, 2017. She was 60 years old. Following Joni's death, Debbie and Kim announced that they will continue to perform as Sister Sledge.
- Rein, Richard K. "When the Pirates Hustled to Sister Sledge's 'We Are Family,' the Steel City Went Platinum". Time Inc.
- "Tramlines 2014".
- "Sister Sledge singer Joni dies at 60". BBC News. 12 March 2017.
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