R.I.P. Joni Sledge of legendary family act Sister Sledge

(March 11, 2017) – They were one of the most popular and revered acts of the Disco Era, and she was in the middle of all that great music and family love. We are sad to inform SoulTrackers that Joni Sledge, one of the incredibly talented sisters who created the legendary soul and dance group Sister Sledge, has died at age 60. Ms. Sledge was discovered unresponsive at her home in Phoenix, Arizona.

In a statement from the Sledge Family “On yesterday, numbness fell upon our family. We welcome your prayers as we weep the loss of our sister, mother, aunt, niece and cousin, Joni Sledge. We thank you for privacy and prayers during these very difficult times.” 

(March 11, 2017) – They were one of the most popular and revered acts of the Disco Era, and she was in the middle of all that great music and family love. We are sad to inform SoulTrackers that Joni Sledge, one of the incredibly talented sisters who created the legendary soul and dance group Sister Sledge, has died at age 60. Ms. Sledge was discovered unresponsive at her home in Phoenix, Arizona.

In a statement from the Sledge Family “On yesterday, numbness fell upon our family. We welcome your prayers as we weep the loss of our sister, mother, aunt, niece and cousin, Joni Sledge. We thank you for privacy and prayers during these very difficult times.” 

The four real-life sisters from Philadelphia earned their place in contemporary music history thanks to a pair of timeless mega hits, "He's The Greatest Dancer" and the now-classic anthem "We Are Family," revived in the fall of 2001 by an all-star collection of artists as a fundraiser in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy.   But while the late 70s mainstream popularity of dance music definitely helped Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim to finally receive their due as chartmakers, Sister Sledge were more than just a one-off group caught up in the heady days of disco.

Indeed, the quartet had been working their craft, in search of a hit years before producers Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, the wonder team behind the success of Chic, took Sister Sledge into the studios and came out with the group's first best-selling album.  The group recorded for several years with limited success. But the combination of producers Edwards and Rodgers, already hot with back-to-back Chic biggies like "Dance, Dance, Dance," "Everybody Dance" and "Le Freak," were the ones to ultimately deliver the goods.

With young Kathy's distinctive lead vocals featured prominently, "He's The Greatest Dancer" adhered perfectly to the production formula that Bernard and Nile had created with their own group: a funkybutt rhythm section, the perfect string arrangement, some soulful punctuated horn lines melded with a song with a storyline and an immediate, highly memorable hook, all working together on a irresistible groove that demanded that even the shyest, most reserved club-goer head straight to the dance floor.  Sister Sledge's tight family harmonies provided the perfect support for Kathy's ode to the Saturday Night Fever era.  Following it might have been a tough task for a team less qualified but Edwards & Rodgers were at the top of their game and "We Are Family" was a blockbuster global hit for Sister Sledge.

The sisters recorded several more albums over the course of the following half decade, landing additional hits like “Lost In Music,” “Next Time You’ll Know” and “Reach Your Peak,” before going their separate ways, with reunions from time to time.

Joni Sledge and her sisters played a front-and-center role in some of the greatest songs of an unforgettable era, and she will be remembered for her beauty, her grace and, most of all, that voice.

By Chris Rizik (with thanks to David Nathan)

 
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