2015 05 14 A AMAZING JAZZ EVENING WITH DEBBIE SLEDGE IN COPENHAGEN
DEBBIE SLEDGE (USA) of Sister Sledge
Sister Sledge is an American musical group from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formed in 1971, the group was originally composed of sisters Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim Sledge. With Kathy leaving in 1989 the group have since operated as a trio (with Kathy occasionally re-joining for one-off performances and several releases in the 1990s). Having enjoyed marginal success in Europe during the middle of the decade, mainstream success was achieved when breakthrough album We Are Family was released in 1979.
Symbolizing strong family values, the siblings became global superstars at the height of the disco era. The group is mostly known for the anthem, "We Are Family" and hit songs "He's the Greatest Dancer", "Lost in Music", their version of "My Guy", and "Frankie". Still performing energetic stage shows and producing music today, Sister Sledge have won in excess of 100 awards and have performed in six of the world's seven continents.
Daughters of Broadway tap dancer Edwin Sledge and actress Florez Sledge, Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim 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 William’s Grandchildren’.
Professional beginnings (1971-1974) 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 a local music named label Money Back. 1973 saw the single "Mama Never Told Me" become a top 20 hit in the UK but it was with the Haras Fyre & 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 infamous Rumble in the Jungle boxing event.
Circle of Love, Together and graduation (1975-1978) Sister Sledge’s first album Circle of Love was released by ATCO (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records) in 1975 and included songs written by Soul legend Gwen Guthrie and Gwen's then-boyfriend, studio bassist Haras Fyre. 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, the album produced a minor hit with the single “Blockbuster Boy” reaching #61 on the US R&B chart. Nearing the end of the decade all four sisters graduated (see ‘education’ for more details).
Breakthrough, We are Family, Love Somebody Today (1978-1980) At something of a cross roads 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 #1 R&B and was a #9 crossover hit. In 1979 the records anthemic namesake “We Are Family” followed and became a worldwide smash charting at #2 pop and #1 R&B. The song and group were nominated for Grammy’s 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 fan’s. The album was certified platinum by the RIAA and produced two more classic disco singles, “Lost In Music” and “Thinking Of You”. 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 #6 R&B and #64 pop. An extensive three-year live tour began and the quartet performed sell out shows all over the world.
All American Girls, The Sisters (1981-1982) In 1981, Sister Sledge worked with Narada Michael Walden who produced their 5th 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 #3 R&B hit but the following singles “Next Time You’ll Know” and “If You Really Want Me” only did moderate business. As a tribute to the late Bob Marley, a reggae influenced mix of the albums 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 #14 R&B and #23 pop hit “My Guy” (a cover of the Mary Wells classic). The group subsequently appeared on a hugely popular episode of The Jefferson’s in which they performed the song for lead character George.
Bet’cha Say That To All The Girls, When The Boys Meet The Girls and UK success (1983–85) 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 number 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 in England spending 4 weeks at #1 and consequently going Gold.
Kathy departure, collaborations, UK success and African Eyes (1989-1998) 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 #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 #5, followed by remixes of “Lost In Music” (#14) and “Thinking Of You” (#17). 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 groups 8th studio album African Eyes, a record that was nominated for a Grammy as best produced album.
Subsequent Years (2000–present) 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 took some time out from the group and Joni and Debbie continued to tour (with various stand-ins), and in 2005 performed on the pyramid stage at the The Glastonbury Music Festival in the UK. In 2011, Kathy rejoined them for a one off appearance on the ‘Women Who Rock’ episode of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show. In 2014 Kim re-joined her sisters Joni and Debbie in the studio and the trio are currently working on new material. They are also in the process of setting up the Florez Sledge Foundation, a charity named after their late mother.