The music world is mourning the loss of Sister Sledge vocalist Joni Sledge, who was found unresponsive in her Phoenix, Ariz. home over the weekend. As a member of Sister Sledge, Joni lent her voice to 10 studio albums and toured with the group up until this year.
The sisters were born into show business in Philadelphia as their father, Edwin Sledge, was a Broadway dancer. Their mother Florez, who also served as the group’s manager early in their career, was an actress.
The sisters were trained as singers by their grandmother, Viola Williams, a friend of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Williams was a former lyric soprano opera vocalist and under her guidance, the sisters became known across Philadelphia for their church performances.
The group was officially formed in 1971 but success would at first prove elusive. At varying points, sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy doubted if music would be for them and considered quitting. Their big break came when Bernard Williams and Nile Rodgers of Chic discovered the sisters and helped write and produce their breakout third studio album, We Are Family, which debuted in 1979.
The album spawned the platinum-selling title track along with other hits like “He’s The Greatest Dancer” and “Lost In Music.” The group had one more hit in 1982′ with a remake of the Mary Wells classic “My Guy” before Kathy, the youngest of the group and lead vocalist, left to pursue a solo career in 1989. For years, the group remained a trio with Kathy returning for rare one-off performances.
In an interview last year, Kathy revealed the divisions that had come between the siblings, but despite those issues, Kathy expressed her love for them.
Joni Sledge, the second-eldest of the four sisters, was 60 at the time of her death. She is survived by her sisters and one adult son.
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