Grace Slick made her name as a lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, one of the pre-eminent bands of the 1960s known for their hits “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” As one of rock’s first female superstars, she hobnobbed with fellow flower-power generation icons like Jim Morrison, and embodied the “bad girl” persona and rebellion that would define the era. She also embarked on drug- and alcohol-induced antics that led to the self-destruction of many of her colleagues, including Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. Slick survived the 1960s, though, and rode with her band though their ups and downs as Jefferson Starship in the 1970s and back to the top again as they hit the charts with a new incarnation, Starship, in the 1980s. After retiring from the stage, Slick began selling artworks, including paintings and drawings of animals, her fellow musicians, and herself.
Grace Barnett Wing was born on October 30, 1939, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Ivan W. Wing, was an investment banker, and her mother, Virginia (Barnett) Wing, had given up a budding career as a singer and actress in order to marry and settle down. Slick’s brother Chris was born in 1949, after the family had moved to San Francisco for her father’s job transfer.
Born Grace Barnett Wing on October 30, 1939, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Ivan W. (an investment banker) and Virginia (Barnett) Wing; married Gerald “Jerry” Robert Slick (a musician), August 26, 1961 (divorced, 1970); married Skip Johnson (a production manager), November 29, 1976 (marriage ended, 1994); children: (with Paul Kantner) China Kantner. Education: Attended Finch College, 1957-58; University of Miami, 1958-59.
Worked as a model for I. Magnin’s, 1960-63; member of musical groups, including Grace Slick and the Great Society, 1965-66; Jefferson Airplane, 1966-72; Jefferson Starship, 1974-78; and Starship, 1981-88; coauthor (with Andrea Cagan) of autobiography, Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir, Warner Books, 1998; painter, 1990s—.
Addresses: Home —Malibu, CA.
They relocated to the suburb of Palo Alto in the early 1950s.
Though Slick was a chubby blonde child, during adolescence her hair turned dark and she slimmed down. Not achieving the “Barbie doll” look that she had hoped for, she turned to sarcasm to fit in with the popular crowd at Jordan Junior High. However, this soon only served to alienate her. By high school, though, she had regained a social circle and was attending parties regularly at a girlfriend’s house. She transferred to a private school, Castilleja School for Girls, to be with her friend. In her teens, Slick began encountering problems with consuming too much alcohol.
After graduation, Slick decided to attend Finch College in New York because another friend was attending there and she had always wanted to go to New York. After a year there, she transferred to the University of Miami in Florida. As she wrote in her autobiography Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir, “Obviously, none of my academic choices were designed to actually further my education. The most important attraction in selecting a school was how much fun might be involved.”
Upon receiving a letter from another friend about the “hippie” scene in San Francisco, Slick moved back to the West Coast in 1958. Instead of diving into the counterculture, however, she entered a relationship with childhood pal Jerry Slick, whose parents were close friends of her parents. They were married in 1961 in a traditional ceremony. Soon, they moved to San Diego, where he attended college and Slick worked at a department store. They quickly returned to San Francisco, where she found work modeling for the I. Magnin couturier department.
Before long, Slick and her husband were associating with artistic friends, and she wrote her first song. She also wrote the music to accompany her husband’s senior thesis at San Francisco State University, a satirical film called Everybody Hits Their Brother Once. It won first prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
In 1965, Slick and her friends saw the band Jefferson Airplane at a local nightclub and decided to put together a group of their own. They called it Grace Slick and the Great Society. She wrote in her book that it was meant to “[make] fun of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s grandiose moniker for the U. S. population.”
The band consisted of Slick on vocals, piano, guitar, and improvisational organ; her husband on drums; his brother Darby on guitar and sitar; and Brad Du Pont on bass. Veering away from the pervasive love-story songs that had been popular for years, the Great Society began to perform original songs with sociopolitical content. One of the band’s biggest numbers— “Somebody to Love” —was, in fact, about love, but as she explained in her autobiography, “The lyrics implied that rather than the loving you’re whining about getting or not getting, a more satisfying state of heart might be the loving you’re giving”
The Great Society often played the famous Fillmore Ballroom, sharing a bill with bands like Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape. Slick and the band also began socializing with the Grateful Dead and Neal Cassady, the lead character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. They also began to experiment widely with drugs, including peyote and LSD. After the band played together for about a year, they broke up and Slick joined the Jefferson Airplane when their female singer quit to raise a family. They already had a contract with RCA and had released one album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. Meanwhile, Slick’s marriage was generally over by 1967, though she didn’t officially divorce until 1971. She was involved with music and her husband had a film career, so they did not see each other. In addition, Slick noted in her book that the marriage had never been one of passion to begin with.
Jefferson Airplane’s hit album, Surrealistic Pillow, came out in 1967 and hit number three on the Billboard charts. It is regarded as their best effort. In addition to including the song “Somebody to Love” on the album, Slick also added to their repertoire her original tune “White Rabbit,” which blends musical strains of Bolero with lyrics inspired by Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland. Slick penned it to be a diatribe about the hypocrisy of the older generation’s derision of drug use.
Throughout the 1960s, Jefferson Airplane was a mainstay of the hippie scene. They played many of the big rock festivals, including Woodstock, Monterey, and the ill-fated Altamont, in which a fan was beaten and stabbed to death by members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, who had regularly served as security guards at concerts. In 1968, the band released its third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, but it was banned from radio play due to the stream-of-consciousness tune “rejoyce.” Later that year, their third album, Crown of Creation went platinum. Volunteers came out in 1969.
Slick, meanwhile, had sexual encounters with most of her bandmates (with the exception of fellow vocalist Marty Balin) as well as other musicians like Morrison, the legendary Doors singer. She also underwent three surgeries to remove nodes from her vocal chords, an ailment that was alleviated after her switch from menthol to regular cigarettes. In her autobiography, she also noted that her condition might have improved due to better technology in monitor speakers.
After two more albums, the live 1969 Bless Its Pointed Little Head and 1970’s compilation The Worst of the Jefferson Airplane, the group began to break apart. Two of the members started another band, Hot Tuna, and Slick began to collaborate with another bandmate, Paul Kantner. She also embarked on a relationship with Kantner that produced a daughter. They initially put the name “god” on her birth certificate, but her real name is China. They also collaborated on the 1972 album Sunfighter, a tribute to their daughter, and Baron von To I I booth and the Chrome Nun, 1973.
Despite the other projects that were keeping band members busy, Jefferson Airplane managed to release 1971’s Bark, with help from violinist Papa John Creach and drummer John Barbata, who had played with the Turtles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They followed this with Long John Silver in 1972. After that, the original group completely broke up, and Slick and Kantner reformed Jefferson Airplane with some new members and released the live album Thirty Seconds over Winterland in 1973, followed by Early Flight in 1974. Slick also released the solo project Manhole in 1973.
Soon, the band changed its name to Jefferson Starship and added a hot young guitarist, Craig Chaquico, to the lineup. Their debut album, Dragon Fly, yielded the hit single “Caroline,” written and performed by former Airplane member Marty Balin, who would soon re-join the group. Following this, they saw their biggest hit ever with 1975’s Red Octopus, which contained the romantic ballad “Miracles.” It surpassed even the success of Surrealistic Pillow, with sales of more than two million copies in its first ten months out. It also became one of only a handful of albums in rock history to reach the number one spot on the Billboard chart four separate times.
In the mid 1970s, Slick began having an affair with Skip Johnson, the band’s lighting director. They married on November 29, 1976, in Hawaii. She and Kantner parted amicably and continued to share custody of their daughter. Meanwhile, Jefferson Starship’s rocket to the top soon crashed following a disastrous tour of Germany in 1978. Slick’s drinking problem contributed to the problems. Though she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and went to treatment centers, she did not permanently stay sober and ended up amassing a string of drunk driving arrests and other citations relating to alcohol abuse. In the meantime, Kantner assembled a new version of Jefferson Starship in 1979 without Slick. She was working on solo projects, but after the new lineup released their first album, Freedom at Point Zero, they asked her to return. She joined again for their next effort, Modern Times, released in 1981, and after this, the group changed its name to simply “Starship.” They had two big commercial albums with Knee Deep in the Hoopla, 1985; and No Protection, 1987, and three number-one hits: “Sara,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” and “We Built This City.”
Despite the success, Slick decided to leave the group again. Her move was sealed when she came down with a debilitating shoulder problem that hindered her movement. She underwent six months of physical therapy before doctors finally gave her a procedure under anesthesia that repaired the shoulder. Following this, her marriage to Johnson began to crumble as he revealed that he had had several affairs. They eventually divorced in 1994.
In 1989, Slick reunited with the original Jefferson Airplane members for an album and tour. She wrote in her autobiography, “Although the tour was not a financial gold mine, it was a good thing. By the time it was over, we’d traded a lot of energy, renewed our friendships, and had closed some uncompleted circles. Nice.”
After this, Slick resumed a relatively low-key life of studying biomedical research and getting involved in animal rights causes. Her peace was shattered, however, when a fire destroyed her Marin County home in 1993. Ironically, it was set ablaze by welders erecting a sign reading “Danger/Fire Area.” She later moved to Malibu, California, to be near her daughter, who was forging an acting career in Los Angeles. Slick continued to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as did her daughter, who by this time had encountered problems with drinking as well.
Into her fifties, Slick gave up singing in public, citing the fact that she was too old to be a rock ’n’ roll queen and because she was tired of performing the same songs all the time. In 1998, she published Somebody to Love, cowritten with her friend Andrea Cagan. It revealed much of her rock goddess past and brought readers up to date on her activities, which included her budding art career.
In 2000, Slick sold about 60 pieces, ranging in style, sizes, and mediums, including oil paint, acrylic paint, pencil, and ink, and had an exhibit at Artrock Gallery in San Francisco late that year. Prices for her works ranged from $1,100 to $8,700, and Slick acknowledged that selling them helped pay her bills since she mainly was living off royalties from her music.
In an Associated Press report that ran in the Charleston Gazette, Kim Curtis wrote, “She knows that serious art critics probably won’t like her work. And they don’t.” Slick admitted that many people probably buy art works from someone famous even if the work isn’t very good, but also noted, “You don’t have to be Rembrandt to make something that appeals to somebody else.”
Solo and other
(With Paul Kantner) Sunfighter, Grunt, 1971.
(With Kantner and David Freiberg) Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun, Grunt, 1973.
Manhole, Grunt, 1973.
Dreams, RCA, 1980.
Welcome to the Wrecking Ball, RCA, 1981.
Software, RCA, 1984.
With Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, RCA, 1966.
Surrealistic Pillow, RCA, 1967.
After Bathing at Baxter’s, RCA, 1967.
Crown of Creation, RCA, 1968.
Volunteers, RCA, 1969.
Bless Its Pointed Little Head (live), RCA, 1969.
The Worst of Jefferson Airplane (compilation), RCA, 1970.
(With others) Woodstock, Cotillion, 1971.
(With others) Woodstock Two, Cotillion, 1972.
Bark, Grunt, 1971.
Long John Silver, Grunt, 1972.
Thirty Seconds over Winterland (live), Grunt, 1973.
Early Flight, Grunt, 1974.
Flight Log (compilation), Grunt, 1977.
2400 Fulton Street (compilation), RCA, 1987.
Jefferson Airplane, Epic, 1989.
(With others) Live at the Monterey Festival (live), Thunderbolt, 1990.
White Rabbit and Other Hits (compilation), RCA, 1990.
(With others) Monterey International Pop Festival Volume 3 (live), Rhino, 1992.
Jefferson Airplane Loves You (compilation), RCA, 1992.
Best Of (compilation), RCA, 1993.
(With others) Woodstock—25th Anniversary Collection (live), Atlantic, 1994.
With Jefferson Starship
Dragon Fly, RCA, 1974.
Red Octopus, Grunt, 1975.
Spitfire, Grunt, 1976.
Earth, Grunt, 1978.
Gold (compilation), Grunt, 1979.
Modern Times, RCA, 1981.
Winds of Change, Grunt, 1982.
Nuclear Furniture, RCA, 1984.
At Their Best (compilation), RCA, 1992.
Deep Space/Virgin Sky (live), Intersound, 1995.
Knee Deep in the Hoopla, RCA, 1985.
No Protection, RCA, 1987.
Love among the Cannibals, RCA, 1989.
Greatest Hits (Ten Years and Change, 1979-1991) (compilation), RCA, 1991.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 5, Gale Research, 1991.
Slick, Grace, and Andrea Cagan, Somebody to Love?: A Rock-and-Roll Memoir, Warner Books, 1998.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, November 1, 1998, p. L9.
Booklist, September 1, 1998, p. 49.
Charleston Gazette, November 23, 2000, p. 3D.
Daily Telegraph, December 29, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, August 21, 1998, p. 115.
Life, December 1, 1992, p. 70.
New York Daily News, September 24, 1998, p. 2C.
New York Times, October 18, 1998.
Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1998, p. 382.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1998, p. 3, 34; November 18, 2000, p. B1.
“Grace Slick,” Contemporary Authors Online, http://www.galenet.com (December 8, 2000).
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