Joni Sledge, founding member of the group Sister Sledge, most famous for the black family anthem “We Are Family,” has died. She was 60 years old. Sledge was found dead in her home in Phoenix on Friday by a friend. A cause of death has not been determined.
Publicist Biff Warren, who confirmed her death, said that Sledge 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.
Sledge and her gorgeous sisters Debbie, Kim and Kathy formed the Sister Sledge in Philadelphia in 1971. Their website gives a bit of their incredible music background:
The sisters ... 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.
After years of struggle, the group connected with Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of the group Chic. The pair wrote and produced their album We Are Family, which spawned the disco hit “The Greatest Dancer” in 1979.
But their biggest hit would come in June of that year with “We Are Family,” which was nominated for a Grammy. The trio (sister Kathy left the group for a solo career in 1989) performed for Pope Francis in 2015 when he visited Philadelphia.
According to the group’s website, Sister Sledge was in the middle of a tour, with performances in Europe scheduled for this spring.
Joni Sledge is survived by an adult son and, of course, her sisters.