UPDATED: March 15, 2017:
NEW YORK (AP) — Joni Sledge, who with her sisters recorded the enduring dance anthem “We Are Family,” has died, the band’s representative said Saturday.
She was 60.
Sledge was found dead in her home by a friend in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday, the band’s publicist, Biff Warren, said. A cause of death has not been determined. He said she had not been ill.
“On yesterday, numbness fell upon our family. We welcome your prayers as we weep the loss of our sister, mother, aunt, niece and cousin,” read a family statement.
On March 15, the Sledge Family issued an official statement about her passing which read in part:
“The medical examiner and Joni’s personal physician determined on 10th March 2017, that her death was due to natural causes which arose from complications from a pre-existing condition.” …
… Sister Sledge, Debbie Sledge, Kim Sledge, and family would like to express our deepest gratitude for the overwhelming outpouring of love and support to our family during this time of great loss in the wake of the transition into eternity of our beloved sister and musical icon, Joni Sledge. We are experiencing painful loss, however at the same time we can honestly say that we have the “‘peace that passes all understanding” and the “Joy of the Lord”, which is our strength, because we know without a doubt that she is in heaven with our loving mother Florez Sledge and more importantly our Lord Jesus. … She is at peace, and knowing that, comforts us.”
Sledge and her sisters Debbie, Kim and Kathy formed the Sister Sledge in 1971 in Philadelphia, their hometown, but struggled for years before success came.
“The four of us had been in the music business for eight years and we were frustrated. We were saying: ‘Well, maybe we should go to college and just become lawyers or something other than music, because it really is tough,'” Joni told The Guardian in an interview last year.
But then they met Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of the hit group Chic, and their breakout soon came. The pair wrote and produced their album “We Are Family,” and soon the women had their first major hit with disco jam “The Greatest Dancer,” which became a top 10 hit in May 1979. (It would sampled years later for Will Smith’s hit “Getting Jiggy Wit It.”)
But their biggest hit would come a month later with the title track, an infectious dance anthem that celebrated their familial connection with the refrain, “We are family, I got all my sisters with me.” While it celebrated their sisterhood, the 1979 hit so also became an anthem for female empowerment and unity. It would become their signature hit, and was nominated for a Grammy. Both the song and album sold more than one million copies.
The women also had a hit with a cover of the Mary Wells song “My Guy” in 1982, but would never duplicate the success they had in the 1970s. Still, Sister Sledge continued; while sister Kathy left the group for a solo career, the trio of sisters continued to perform and record, including a performance for Pope Francis in 2015.
Warren said they last performed together in concert in October.
According to the family statement of March 15: Surviving family members consist of her son Thaddeus Whyte VI; her 87-year-old aunt and matriarch of the family, Geraldine Rhodes Kennedy; her sisters, Carol, Debbie, Kim, and Kathy; and her many, many beloved family members throughout the U.S. and extended and adopted family in the UK, the Netherlands, Japan and throughout the world!”
NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP Entertainment Writer; Contributing: Miriam Di Nunzio, Sun-Times Staff Reporter