By Stacy M. Brown (The Washington Informer/NNPA Member)
Joni Sledge, the second eldest sister in the hit pop group Sister Sledge, died of a preexisting medical condition, according to TMZ. Sledge passed away at home in Phoenix, Ariz., on Friday, March 11. She was 60 years old.
On March 14, the gossip website reported that her doctor “signed of on ‘natural causes’” and no autopsy would be performed.
A statement issued by the family asked for prayer for “the loss of our sister, mother, aunt, niece and cousin Joni Sledge.”
The statement continued: “We thank you for privacy as we hurt for her presence, but also for embracing her radiance and the sincerity with which she loved life.”
Sister Sledge formed in 1971 and went on to record such hits as “We Are Family,” “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Frankie” and more.
The sisters, Debbie, Joni, and Kim (sister Kathy stepped away from the ensemble in 1989), are daughters of entrepreneur and actress Florez Sledge and acclaimed Broadway performer Edwin Sledge.
Their 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, 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.
The Grammy-nominated “We Are Family,” released in 1979, peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100; the song also topped the R&B and disco charts and was a rallying cry for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball team that won the World Series.
The album of the same name reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
“Recording the track ‘We Are Family’ was like a one-take party – we were just dancing and playing around and hanging out in the studio when we did it,” Sledge once recalled in an interview with “The Guardian.”
Joni is survived by her son, Thaddeus, and sisters Debbie, Kim and Kathy.