Photo Credit: Shefik
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 an original vocalist in the group Sister Sledge, which included her lead vocals on worldwide anthems like "We Are Family" and "He's the Greatest Dancer," she's inspired millions of listeners across all generations. Kathy is currently traversing new terrain with her critically acclaimed show The Brighter Side of Day: A Tribute to Billie Holiday plus studio projects that span elements of R&B, rock, and EDM. Indeed, Kathy's reached a fascinating juncture in her journey.
That journey began in Philadelphia. The youngest of five daughters born to Edwin and Florez Sledge, Kathy possessed a prodigious musical talent. Her grandmother was an opera singer who taught her harmonies while her father was one-half of Fred & Sledge, the tapping duo who broke racial barriers on Broadway. "I learned the art of music from my father and my grandmother. The business part of music was instilled through my mother," she says. Schooled on an eclectic array of artists like Nancy Wilson and Mongo Santamaría, Kathy and her sisters honed their act around Philadelphia and signed a recording contract with Atco Records. Featuring leads by Kathy, "Mama Never Told Me" (1973) and "Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me" (1974) scored the group major hits everywhere from the U.K. to Japan, plus the Silver Award at the Tokyo Music Festival. At 15 years-old, Kathy was invited to perform with her sisters at the historic Zaire 74 concert conceived by Hugh Masekela.
However, groundbreaking producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (the CHIC Organization) completely revamped the group's image. "Nile and Bernard stylized us," says Kathy. "They saw that these girls can be hot so let's give them some hot, sexy tracks." The #1 We Are Family (1979) album went platinum and earned plaudits from the rock press. "'We Are Family,' beautifully sung by Kathy Sledge, is a near perfect fusion of gospel fire and disco cool," wrote Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone. The song's sentiment also stuck a personal chord with Kathy, who recorded her vocals in one take. "To me, that song is obviously something that my sisters and I were exuding that we didn't even know we had." Gracing magazine covers and appearing on the era's most popular music programs like Soul Train, American Bandstand, and Solid Gold, Kathy and her sisters continued working with top producers like George Duke and Narada Michael Walden. She adds, "I knew I was in the presence of geniuses when working with George Duke and Narada. George was one of the kindest people you'd ever meet. Narada would pull me aside and give me wisdom that I've applied to things I do in my life."