R&B vocal group
The disco era of American music, which hit its peak in the late 1970s, would not have been the same without the energetic grooves performed by Sister Sledge. Their 1979 hits “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family” inspired dancers in the club scene around the world. The infectious chorus of “We Are Family” was adopted by the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team in their 1979 World Series championship season. Over time, the song has become the anthem for several causes, including gay rights and as a call for tolerance after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
Four sisters make up the group Sister Sledge. Debbie, Joni, Kathy, and Kim Sledge were all born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their father and mother met in New York where both were pursuing careers in entertainment. Edwin Sledge, a renowned tap dancer, made entertainment history by being the first African American to perform on Broadway. Florez Williams acted and danced until she took on the full responsibility of raising her daughters. Their grandmother, Viola Williams, was a lyric opera performer who taught the girls basic vocal techniques. As young children, Debbie, Joni, Kathy, Kim, and their sister Carol performed as Mrs. Williams’ Grandchildren. Appearing throughout Philadelphia, the girls sang for charities, churches, and other events under their grandmother’s guidance. One of their primary performance venues was the church they attended, Williams Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME).
In 1971, as the Sisters Sledge, they recorded their first single, “Time Will Tell,” on a local label named Money Back. They changed their name to Sister Sledge not long afterward and began recording for various Atlantic Records labels. Much of their early work with Atlantic involved singing background vocals. Then in 1974 they released their first album, Circle of Love. A single from that album, “Love, Don’t You Go through No Changes On Me,” reached number 31 on the R&B charts. The album was wildly popular in Japan, and in 1975, Sister Sledge was invited to the International Tokyo Music Festival, where they won the Silver Prize. Their second album, Together, released in 1977, produced single that made it to number 61 on the R&B charts, called “Blockbuster Boy.”
By the end of the 1970s, the sisters had begun to question their devotion to the music industry. Despite years of experience, their future seemed uncertain. Carol had already decided to leave her singing career to pursue teaching. The four remaining sisters promised themselves that if they did not make it really big in the next year that they would disband and go their separate ways. As fate would have it, Sister Sledge became the pet project of producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the team that had worked with the group Chic to produce the popular dance hit “Le Freak.”
Rodgers and Edwards’ production skills, combined with the vocal talents of Sister Sledge, led to the 1979 breakthrough album We Are Family. The first single from the album, “He’s The Greatest Dancer,” went to number one on the R&B charts. The second single, “We Are Family,” not only hit number one on the R&B charts, but broke through to reach number two on the pop charts as well. Willie Stargel of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team chose the song as his team’s anthem in the 1979 championship season. The infectious fun and call for togetherness embodied in the song helped bond crowds with the Pirates as they eventually won the 1979 World Series. The album itself was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Rodgers and Edwards produced the group’s third album, Love Somebody Today, released in 1980. The single from that album, “Got to Love Somebody,” made it to number six on the R&B charts. For their 1981 release, All American Girls, Sister Sledge recruited new producers and scored a number three R&B hit with the single “All American Girls.” That year they made their first appearance on television’s Soul Train, a show dedicated to introducing R&B music and artists in a dance club setting. In 1982 they released another album, The Sisters, and had another hit. When their cover of Mary Wells’ “My Guy” made it to 14 on the R&B charts, Sister Sledge made another appearance on Soul Train.
By the mid-1980s disco fever had subsided in the United States, but Sister Sledge’s music was still in
Members include Debbie Sledge (born on July 9, 1954, in Philadelphia, PA); Joni Sledge (born on September 13, 1956, in Philadelphia, PA); Kathy Sledge (born on January 6, 1959, in Philadelphia, PA); Kim Sledge (born on August 21, 1957, in Philadelphia, PA).
Originally part of a group named Mrs. Williams’ Grandchildren, formed by their grandmother; released debut single, “Time Will Tell,” on local Money Back label, 1971; signed with Atlantic Records; released debut album, Circle of Love, 1974; released Together, 1977; released We Are Family, produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, 1979; made a guest appearance on The Jeffersons, 1984; released European hit single “Frankie,” 1985; appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, 1998; contributed to rerecording of “We Are Family,” a fund-raiser for victims of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 2001; performed at the Science, Technology, and Arts Royal Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2001.
Awards: Silver Prize, International Tokyo Music Festival, 1975.
Addresses: Record company —Fahrenheit Entertainment, Inc., 10200 E. Girard Ave., Bldg C-255, Denver, CO 80231, phone: (303) 745-6252, fax: (303) 745-6435. Booking —Booking Entertainment, 36 West 26th St., Suite 702, New York, NY 10001.
demand. In 1984 their performance at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood, California, was filmed to create An Evening with Sister Sledge. That same year they made a guest appearance on the television sitcom The Jeffersons. Their work was also well received in Europe where disco remained popular. In 1985 the single “Frankie,” from their album When the Boys Meet the Girls, made it to number 32 on the American R&B charts. It became a numberone pop hit in the United Kingdom and six other European countries and eventually went platinum in Britain.
By 1988 Kathy Sledge had left the group to explore other creative ventures. She performed in a Philadelphia dance tribute called Gotta Dance, and in 1992 released her solo album, Heart. Maintaining her roots in Philadelphia, Kathy worked for Philly Total Fitness… And Dance teaching step aerobics and spinning classes beginning in 1998. The remaining sisters, Joni, Kim, and Debbie continued to perform together. Occasionally Kathy would step in as a replacement if one of the other sisters needed a break from touring.
The group’s schedule took the sisters all over the world. In 1998 they performed for the Rosie O’Donnell Show and the Association for Independent Music “Indie” Awards. That same year they released their album African Eyes, a musical response to a trip they made to South Africa during which they met Nelson Mandela. In 2001 they performed for the Celebrity Fight Night charity in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Science, Technology, and Arts Royal Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In late September of 2001 all four sisters reunited with Nile Rodgers and hundreds of other celebrities to rerecord “We Are Family” for the We Are Family Foundation, which was started to raise funds for training and teaching tolerance and to counsel the families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; it was established by Nile Rodgers, who authored the song.
Circle of Love, Atlantic, 1974.
Together, Cotillion/Atlantic, 1977.
We Are Family, Cotillion/Atlantic, 1979.
Love Somebody Today, Cotillion/Atlantic, 1980.
All American Girls, Cotillion/Atlantic, 1981.
The Sisters, Cotillion/Atlantic, 1982.
Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls, WEA, 1983.
When the Boys Meet the Girls, Atlantic, 1985.
African Eyes, Fahrenheit, 1998.
Atlanta Constitution, February 20, 1998, p. 02D.
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Financial Times Information, September 9, 2001.
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“About the Project: Overview,” We Are Family Foundation, http://www.wearefamilyfoundation.com/version_html.html (February 6, 2002).
“Indie Awards—Performers: Sister Sledge,” http://www.afim.org/indies/index.cfm?action=performers&year=1998 (February 4, 2002).
“Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox Raise Funds,” About.com, http://celebritynews.about.com/library/causes/blfoxali.htm?iam=dpile&terms=%22Sister+Sledge%22 (February 7, 2002).
“Sister Sledge,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (February 7, 2002).
“Sister Sledge Biography,” Booking Entertainment, http://www.bookingentertainment.com/Sledgej_biography.html (February 4, 2002).
“Sister Sledge Biography,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid=2664&cf=2664 (February 7, 2002).
—Eve M. B. Hermann
"Sledge, Sister." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 14, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sledge-sister
"Sledge, Sister." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sledge-sister
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