Joni Sledge, who along with her three sisters founded the R&B group Sister Sledge of “We Are Family” fame, died Saturday at her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She was 60.
The Sledge family said in a statement, “Yesterday, numbness fell upon our family. We are saddened to inform you that our dear sister, mother, aunt, niece and cousin, Joni passed away yesterday. Please pray for us as we weep for this loss. We do know that she is now eternally with Our Lord. We thank you in advance for allowing us the privacy to mourn quietly as a family. We miss her and hurt for her presence, her radiance, and the sincerity with which she loved & embraced life.”
Sledge was found unresponsive by a friend at her Phoenix home Saturday; no cause of death has been determined, AZ Central reports. Memorial services will be announced in the next week.
Joni, the second eldest of the Philadelphia-born Sledge sisters, co-founded Sister Sledge along with Debbie, Kim and Kathy in 1971. The daughters of a Broadway dancer and an actress and the granddaughters of an opera singer, the quartet released two albums that had little traction before breaking out with their third LP We Are Family, featuring the classic title track written and produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.
“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 Sledge told the Guardian in 2016.
“We Are Family” – the recording of which Joni called “a one-take party” – would climb to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979; Sister Sledge would also garner hit singles with the Rodgers/Edwards-penned tracks “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “Lost in Music.”
Sister Sledge would record one more hit – a cover of Mary Wells’ “My Guy” in 1982 – before Kathy Sledge departed to pursue a solo career in 1989. Joni, Debbie and Kim continued on as a trio until Joni’s unexpected death. The group last performed together in October, and their next show together was scheduled for March 18th.
In 2016, Joni Sledge revealed that Sister Sledge would record a song called “W.A.M.O.W.,” an acronym for “Woman Are the Music of the World.”
“We’re very excited there’s a W.A.M.O.W. running for President of the United States,” Joni Sledge said on November 3rd, just days before Election Day. “We support her 100 percent.” Sister Sledge previously performed for Hillary Clinton at the White House when she was First Lady in 2000.