Next Thought on Music: a quick chat with legendary singer Kathy Sledge

Kathy Sledge

I’ve been blessed to sit with and interview many persons since I’ve started this site, but I must say that last Tuesday was a highlight because I had the pleasure of speaking with legendary singer/performer Kathy Sledge.  Yes, the Kathy Sledge who at age 16 recorded one of the most globally beloved songs “We Are Family” with her three sisters Debbie, Joni & Kim, collectively called Sister Sledge, and laid her lead vocals in a single take.  The Kathy Sledge who still emanates radiance and timeless beauty, and has an equally beautiful spirit to match.  And, in all honesty, the Kathy Sledge who I often imitated with my friends and a hairbrush, or whatever would best substitute as a mic at the time (don’t judge me!). Ms. Sledge accepted the 2014 “Linda Creed Shining Star Award” from The Artists United, at its annual Her-Story event, and graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions.

What does it mean to receive this award tonight from The Artists United in your hometown?

I’m thrilled, for several reasons.  Usually your hometown is always the hardest place to make it, but I’ve always had that support from Philadelphia.  I’m honored to receive an award in Linda Creed’s name. That’s a huge honor in and of itself,  because I was a huge fan. 

The song “We Are Family” is one of the most iconic in history and has been used to represent so many campaigns, causes, etc. And you recorded it at a young age, but did you ever imagine the impact the song would have?

We couldn’t get airplay before the song came out. I remember asking (songwriter) Nile Rodgers, “You think they’re going to play this (on the radio)?” And he said “Baby, this is going to be huge.” I’ll never forget the day the album was released, “He’s the Greatest Dancer” was the first song and that’s what woke me up that morning for school, and I was blown away.  

We had number one hits internationally when I was 13 and 14, but here in the states we couldn’t get any airplay. So to hear “We Are Family” played was huge to me. And even now, the impact that it has always astounds me. I meet little kids with their moms and grandmothers, who think that the kids should know who I am. But then (the mothers or grandmothers) will sing the song, and the kids walk away with an autograph! That just blows me away.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I like Billie Holiday.  People used to say her voice had the sound and tonal qualities of a clarinet, and I’ve been told mine does to.  And, I love Stevie Wonder; anything he sings, writes, and produces.  To me he is the Mozart of our time.

If you could portray any artist, past or present, on the big screen who would it be and why?

I would have to say Billie Holiday.  I’ve been told I bring her to life on stage.  I am actually working on a production called “The Brighter Side of Day,” and I want to portray her in a way she’d be proud.  Funny enough, I did land the part of Lady Day on Broadway, but another producer was brought in so that didn’t happen.  In a way, I was okay with that because the script was so heavy.  We know the heavy story. Marilyn Monroe had a challenging life, but we’re not reminded of it every time.  I think that it is up to us to tell our stories, of our great artists, and lift them up for the legendary reasons that we know.

What person, actor or musical artist, could you see playing you?

There’s a little girl, and her family, that I actually had the honor of judging on a morning show a few summers ago, and ironically enough these beautiful girls’ last name is Sledge.  The little girl who sings (lead) reminds me a lot of me, and that was surreal.  Her name is Mimi.  She follows me (on social media) and calls me an “honorary” aunt.

What’s so amazing about that last answer is I completely remember Ms. Sledge judging that group, and I was taken with 9 yr old (at the time) Mimi, and her sisters who rocked out on instruments while they covered “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.” What was even more memorable, and I shared this with Ms. Sledge, was watching her reaction to the group, and the name share was lost on no one in that studio!

The significance of the award Ms. Sledge received on Tuesday also wasn’t lost on those who were in attendance.  The Linda Creed Shining Star Award is named for the late songwriter Linda Creed, who penned an impressive array of hits with producer Thom Bell for Philadelphia International Records, but maybe best known for penning the hit song “The Greatest Love of All.”  Ms. Creed’s legacy lives on not only in her music, but via the foundation created in her name to provide community-based education, support, and mammograms related to breast cancer awareness. When asked to comment on his wife being honored with the award, Sledge’s husband Phillip shared, “It means a great deal.  Seeing Linda’s legacy live on in the music (tributes performed) and through Kathy receiving this award is doubly rewarding, especially as someone who knew her.”

Read more about the tribute to Kathy Sledge and the award presentation in my examiner.com article here , and go to Ms. Sledge’s official community Facebook page to get info and updates on her by clicking here.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

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