Exclusive! 70s Disco Queen Kathy Sledge talks about iconic Sister Sledge
- Published on Thursday, 05 May 2022 11:32
- Last Updated on 20 September 2022
- Monica Costa
- 0 Comments
I was properly star-struck when I recently met iconic lead vocal Kathy Sledge. To this day, her family girl-band Sister Sledge remains one of popular music’s defining vocal acts, with their Global hit We Are Family hailed as one of the Top 20 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time, by US Billboard Magazine. With trendsetting style and musical flair, this world-renowned band created a unique sound that garnered Grammy nominations, number one hits, and timeless global anthems. iconic lead vocal by Kathy, the lyrics to the group’s signature song were inspired by the real-life family dynamic that propelled them to worldwide fame.
Born into a family of prodigious musical talent, the Philadelphia-based group worked with groundbreaking producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (The CHIC Organization) to completely revamp the group’s image on the #1 We Are Family (1979) album.
Kathy’s lead vocals on He’s the Greatest Dancer & Thinking of You and Joni’s lead on Lost in Music fueled We Are Family with blockbuster hits, rewarding Sister Sledge with a platinum album and unanimous praise from critics. The sisters went on to have many more hits including their UK debut Mama Never Told Me and in later years My Guy and the #1 UK smash Frankie.
Kathy Sledge is a Renaissance woman — a singer, songwriter, author, producer, manager, and Grammy nominated music icon whose boundless creativity and passion has garnered praise from critics and a legion of fans from all over the world. Her artistic triumphs encompass chart-topping hits, platinum albums, and successful forays into several genres of popular music. Through her multi-faceted solo career and her legacy as the signature voice in Sister Sledge.
As one of the most sought-after voices in dance and pop music, Kathy received the ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’ at the 2013 Ibiza DJ Awards and has recently collaborated with renowned London-based production team Horse Meat Disco on recent club hits Falling Deep in Love (2019) and Jump into the Light (2020).
Monica: Hi Kathy! I bet all the people you are meeting today, even on Zoom, are so excited to talk to you because they have partied with your music. I’m a party girl. I’ve spent most of my life in parties, and still do. Your music is associated with good times since I was a teenager. You are very much anchored to your family, right?
Kathy Sledge: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Monica: What’s the inspiration behind the iconic song We are Family? When I dance to it I don’t even think about the words, I just dance. Are the lyrics very much about your family?
Kathy Sledge: Yes, they are. The wonderful story behind We are Family is to be traced back to the songwriters, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. They had huge hits, and then they were asked by our record company Warner Brothers, for Atlantic records then, to give them a hit record. Warner brothers wanted them to produce Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, so the story goes, answered to that: “Well, if we record Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, it’s going to be an instant hit. So, Warner gave us an act to record that no one knows.” And that would be us. This is before we had any hits in the United States. The then record company president started describing us: “You got to meet these girls, they’re family. And they flock together like birds of the feather.” So, Nile and Bernard started writing down the description of us. That became the lyrics to the song. I like to say that it was really written about us from a description of who we were as little kids. I was 16, growing up in a family of five sisters. The heart of Sister Sledge is We Are Family. The lyrics to our signature song were inspired by our real-life family dynamic that propelled us to worldwide fame. That’s what makes it special to me, and originally, we were always the Sledge Sisters. One night the DJ introduced us backwards, so we became Sister Sledge. A lot of things happened organically. That was one of the reasons why everything happened the way it did. The records became bigger than life, more than we’d ever expect. To be the voice singing these songs is very special to me.
Monica: This is a super story. Was it easy to work with your sisters?
Kathy Sledge: Well, I can honestly say, it was easier being sisters than it was working together as sisters. And we have a lot of things that, still to this day, people butt heads with. What’s important with any family is that there will always be dynamics that may not work well together. But as long as the spirit of growing, and the spirit of allowing each other to grow is important. That was something that was problematic for some of my sisters, especially with me singing everything. Sometimes there was jealousy.
What I’ve learned through it is that it’s in every family. The disadvantage that I had growing up is you’re under a magnifying glass when the world is watching you, and all families have their madness. To be in the public eye was always a challenge. And now more than ever, I’ve had challenges with my sisters because I sang as the lead vocalist of a lot of songs. But now, I’m thrilled that I am surfacing again and singing these songs the way we know and love them. In the end, as long as we are family, we just keep moving.
Monica: It’s wonderful that you bring Sister Sledge back on the road because it makes us happy, because your songs have been part of our lives since forever. Every party plays Sister Sledge. I can’t even see a party without it. All the songs are iconic, but which one is your personal favourite and why?
Kathy Sledge: I love Thinking of You, because it’s sexy and fun. I’m loving the fact that, here in the United States, it’s like a new record. Now, it’s new to people. My son and my daughter, their friends, say, “Oh, your mum has a new record out.” And I’m like, “That’s been out. But it’s new now.” I love singing it live on stage and having the authentic sound of what the song is. People appreciate that more than ever now.
Monica: But even the youngest generations, they don’t know when this music was produced originally.
Kathy Sledge: It’s fresh.
Monica: … it’s evergreen.
Monica: I don’t know whether it’s fresh or not, because we’ve always known it. But for the youngsters it must sound new.
Kathy Sledge: It is new and funny. I’m seeing these kids who know and love it, although they have never been around to see a live Sister Sledge show. We were the first girl band to ever dance full on. Even though the sisters don’t really perform together anymore. I’m producing concerts with the choreographer, making sure that when the lights come up, and you see Lost in Music, the smoke appears and you hear the strings. You see these four silhouettes, the dancers, and then all of a sudden, you’re right into this experience. By the time I hit the stage, you’re already up here. I want to be able to give especially to people who weren’t here in our heyday, the experience. Of course, most importantly, the hits have to sound exactly like the record. You have to close your eyes and feel like you’re just playing the record.
Monica: Oh, my God, I want to see that show.
Kathy Sledge: I hope you can come! When you see it, it gives you chills because it gets me chills. There might be a huge screen of the original sisters and slow motion, and they’re doing the moves. I love it when young kids are dancing to Lost in Music. I get excited feeling the energy live. You just have to be there.
Monica: It really impresses me that you still feel the thrills of singing the same songs for…
Kathy Sledge: Forever.
Monica: This is the passion!
Kathy Sledge: You took the words out of my mouth. When it’s passion, it doesn’t really go away.
Kathy Sledge: Once I was chatting to a friend about relationships. I was saying, “Sometimes relationships lose their passion. You still love each other, but there’s no passion.” And he asked me, “Will you ever lose your passion for music?” I was like, “No.” And then he went, “Passion is passion.” That’s what you feel when I talk about the show because I’m very passionate about the music and making sure that when we’re up there performing, we, the dancers and the musicians and the singers, have to sound exactly like the record. My passion comes through because everything works the way it should. I’m excited about that.
Monica: How about the dance routines? The disco routines were amazing for us watching them and they seemed so easy. You made them look easy, but I bet there was a lot of really tough work behind it. Do you have any anecdote on how you prepared for those dance routines?
Kathy Sledge: A lot of work.
Kathy Sledge: In the early days, my sisters and I, when we were a band together, we would always have to take ballet classes because if there was a kick, the kick had to be up here. Now when I work with choreographers and the dancers, of course, I don’t kick up there, but I do say to the choreographer, “Sister Sledge always had it here. If the leg is there, I want to see it there.” The hard work comes in. In the early days, my sisters and I would always work very hard with the choreography. I totally admire artists like Beyoncé’. You can tell the work that goes in. She has my utmost respect because I feel like I know how hard she’s working, but it takes being an artist to understand how much work goes into this.
It could be a three-minute song, but everything’s got to be right on. I always appreciate dancers because I feel like, in some cases, they work the hardest. Incredible dancers, they’re like my family now. When I work, when I tour, and we become a family. I always make sure, and my tour manager makes sure of it too, that we have a family-style dinner after every show. Because the camaraderie is where you really lock.
Monica: Can you tell me anything about your collaboration with Nile Rodgers?
Kathy Sledge: I was this kid when I sang Thinking of You and We are Family. I wasn’t allowed to even hear the song until it was time to record it. That was different because Nile and Bernard Edwards believed in spontaneity. They did not want it to sound over-rehearsed. They wanted it to be the first time we even heard it. That’s one reason why it just keeps coming back on the charts or people know and love it because there’s this newness to it, that was real. We recorded it. It was new in my ears when I recorded it. And it’s that came through. But what I like most about working with Nile and still to this day, we’re really cool friends. He’s moved to Florida now, but he taught me most, at that young age at 16, singing these songs, to just trust your producers. I’ve always had the honour of working with some great producers like George Duke or Narada Michael Walden. And, of course, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Now I’m working with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. And I’m excited about that.
Monica: What’s coming up in the world of Kathy Sledge, and is there a new album, new songs?
Kathy Sledge: Yes. It’s funny you should say that because my favourite producers, of course, are Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Jimmy and Terry have now written some songs for my voice. I’ve been writing with them. They wanted to write a song that sounded Chic. They sent me this material that sounds even more than Chic. I sent one of the tracks to Nile Rodgers. Eventually, he will probably be playing on it. It’s in the very beginning stages, but we will be collaborating together in the future. I would like that very much.
Monica: That’s a recognisable voice and guitar… the moment you hear it, you know, that’s Nile Rodgers. It’s no one else, a distinct guitar sound like Carlos Santana. You know exactly who that is, first note, right?
Kathy Sledge: Yes. That’s incredible. I did share this thought with Nile. I said, “Nile, when people hear your guitar, they know exactly.” And he goes, “You think?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I think.” And this is why. It’s one thing to have a voice, and you sing, and you hear it, and you go, “Oh, that’s Sade. Oh, that’s Sting. I recognise his voice.” Or “That’s Jagger.” But when you take a thing, a guitar is a thing. It doesn’t have a life. It’s a thing until that person can bring life through it. It’s pretty remarkable. That’s a thing, but they’re actually bringing their spirit through it. When I think about that, it blows me away.
There will be an EP, five to six songs. I’ve written around four.
I’m still writing. I’m mainly writing with Jimmy Jam, and I love Terry Lewis, too. It’s a dream come true to work with them. It would be even more of a dream come true to work with them and have Nile do a guest appearance. I would like to say it would be something for the end of the year. That’s very doable.
SISTER SLEDGE FEATURING KATHY SLEDGE will perform at LONDON’S INDIGO AT THE 02 on SATURDAY 14TH MAY 2022.
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums