Joni Sledge, who along with her siblings formed the group Sister Sledge and recorded the enduring hit “We Are Family,” has died representatives for the group said on Saturday. Joni was 60.
Sledge was found unresponsive at her home in Phoenix on Friday and the cause of death has not been determined, according to a statement from the band’s publicist, Biff Warren. He said she had not been ill.
“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,” the band said Saturday in a statement posted on their website and Facebook page.
The Philadelphia-born Joni Sledge, along with her sisters Debbie, Kim and Kathy, formed the group Sister Sledge in 1971.
Aside from “We Are Family,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became an international hit, the group also was known for “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Lost in the Music” and a cover of the Motown classic “My Guy.”
Joni Sledge did not normally sing lead in the group, but she did on one popular song, “Reach Your Peak.”
Sister Sledge was formed in Philadelphia, the sisters’ 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.
Sister Sledge performed before Pope Francis in 2015 when he visited Philadelphia.
Warren said they last performed together in concert in October.
Joni Sledge is survived by an adult son, her sisters and other relatives.