In the history of recorded music, there have been only a handful of musical groups which have managed to transcend time, genre, and culture…and Sister Sledge is indisputably one of these. As the pages of the Chicago Tribune have asserted, Sister Sledge “has the stuff legends are made of.
The sisters, Debbie, Joni, and Kim (sister Kathy stepped away from the ensemble in 1989), are daughters of entrepreneur/actress Florez Sledge and acclaimed Broadway performer Edwin Sledge. Their beloved grandmother, Viola Beatrix Hairston Williams, was an alumna of the Juilliard School and of Bethune-Cookman College, where she was a personal protégé of founder Mary McCloud Bethune. An accomplished lyric-opera soprano in her own right, Mrs. Williams provided unique vocal training to the siblings early on, arranging for her granddaughters to perform at church events and community functions. The quartet, introduced to the world as “Mrs. Williams Granddaughters,” before long, formed a band and, with Debbie serving as vocal arranger, Joni as artistic director, and Mom, Florez as manager, Sister Sledge was born.
As a unique, multi-faceted, multi-lead-vocal group, any one of the sisters could have chosen to pursue a solo career, each being an accomplished vocalist, songwriter, producer and performer. Early on, however, they recognized the mantle of “family” and the strength in unity that would later inspire a generation.
“We grew up in a household full of women, where music, theatre, laughter, fantasy and dreams were encouraged. With love and faith at the core, a strong confidence and hope for the future was formed on each of us as we watched our mom Florez face many obstacles as a single parent with humour, a love for people and a zest for life!” ~ Debbie Sledge
Performing jazz, soul, gospel, disco, and R&B, flourishing both in-studio and onstage, the sisters built a formidable reputation, dazzling audiences and impressing critics from the start. Along with their busy performance schedules, the ladies also made certain to complete academic studies, each of them earning a Temple University college degree.
The reputation Sister Sledge had begun to forge soon began to transcend national borders with the group achieving enduring popularity in Africa, where they performed at the “Rumble in the Jungle” Ali-Foreman heavyweight-boxing match, in Japan where they won the prestigious Tokyo Music Festival Silver Prize, and across Europe. Finally they made a splash in the U.S. with their first U.S. hit, “Mama Never Told Me,” and shortly after dramatically took off with the blockbuster release of the iconic “We Are Family” album, produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.
“When we had the honour of meeting the iconic Nelson Mandela, he shook my hand and talked about the positive inspiration our song gave South Africa during the end of the apartheid era. All I could think about were the sacrifices he’d made for us all, and that his humility made him seem 10 ft tall.” ~ Joni Sledge