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World-famous musicians and 80s disco sensation Sister Sledge have recently announced their new UK tour ’40 Years of Disco’, heading to Birmingham’s Genting Arena March 2018. The sisters will be headlining alongside other huge names in Disco, making the event one you do not want to miss. Cornfield caught up with Kim Sledge, who reflected back upon her incredible 40-year career alongside her sisters, transitional yet optimistic present, and positive hopes for the future. 

Words by Evie Kissack

When I received the confirmation for an interview with Sister Sledge, to describe my emotion as excited would be a complete understatement. The legendary ladies have sustained an incredible, life-long musical career, having collaborated closely with renowned artists such as Nile Rogers and Narada Michael Walden. When compiling my list of questions for Debbie and Kim Sledge, I struggled to narrow down the extensive list I originally had - but needn’t have worried in the slightest. The interview turned out to be an extremely memorable, natural conversation, one that will definitely stick with me for the rest of my career. Speaking for on behalf of both sisters, Kim spoke honestly with a few laughs along the way, chatting about the sisters' shared excitement for their new tour. Most of all, Kim was extremely open when discussing the Sledge’s recent family tragedy, and their ability to cope and heal together through their music.

So your new tour 40 Years of Disco is coming to Birmingham in March! '40 Years of Disco' will see Sister Sledge headlining alongside other musical legends such as Boney M, Rose Royce, Odyssey, and Tavares. How does it feel to be part of such an incredible line up?

Well, these are artists that we have come across at different points in our career and we’ve seen each other along the road as we’ve performed in different countries – just us all coming together is going to be a lot of fun, a lot of laughs. We love it, because – for lack of a better word – it’s a lot of ‘old school’ artists who have been trained in the art of performing and interacting with different audiences. It’s always fun because it’s a party, you know. It’s a party on stage (laughter). So, we are looking forward to that. 

I actually went to Liverpool Disco Festival recently and the DJs were playing a lot of your songs – all the classics. It was great because disco music seems to have made a huge comeback, especially to younger generations. 


I know you come from an extremely musical family. How did your musical career first begin?

Of course, we sang for our grandma. She was an opera singer, and she would pull us to the piano and teach us in the form of classical music. She taught us about breathing techniques, annunciation and pronunciation, and the basics for performing. We were a cappella singers from the beginning, so we really had to train our ears to hear the notes in order to harmonise. One of our instructions from her was, “Always be ready to perform without music if all else fails”. So, that’s how we were trained. Our grandma was a disciplinarian, she was as sweet as pie, but she was serious about performing, serious about her craft. I am really grateful for that. I really began to become grateful later on when we realised that a standard of excellence is important, but it’s the performance that counts. It’s such a gift to be out there [on stage]. An audience comes to enjoy the music – I mean, that’s why people go out. You know, people work all week and go out on a Saturday to have a good time! 

You've had an incredible career over the past 40 years as Sister Sledge- but of course you’ve also experienced times of heartbreak and hardship. You’ve spoken very openly about the affect of your sister Joni's passing earlier this year upon the Sledge family, and my greatest condolences for your loss. When did you and Debbie come to the decision to continue performing together?

Well, we actually had concerts booked! After she passed we had to fulfil a contract. Others might have thought, “How could you do that?” but it was actually the best thing in the world because - and I remember it was in New Orleans, and it was so precious because the audience were like one big family to us. We all wept together, and embraced the moment, and we all embraced Joni’s presence. So, it was actually very comforting.

That’s wonderful. You also published a moving tribute to Joni on your Twitter account that documented some of the amazing charity work Sister Sledge has been involved with over the years - such as the ‘Walk In Her Shoes Campaign 2016’. Do you think it’s important for musicians to support causes such as this?

Absolutely, I do. Because, there’s a reason why you’ve been given a gift – and even what you do yourself– what we both do, we have the privilege and the beauty to influence. With that comes a responsibility to influence in such a way that inspires people to be the best that they can be, to identify with what other people might be going through, so that you can give encouragement. As well as have fun moments! You need moments in to let your hair down - life is too hard!

Definitely (laughter). I know you performed with Kathy for the We Are Family Foundation recently – that must have been a very emotional experience?

Well, the thing is, which is incredible, is that we never had a problem with Kath. I think rumours and the media made it into something it was not. Kathy wanted to perform as a solo artist back in ’89, and it was hard, but we gave her our blessing. We shop together - we do everything! We were actually together this weekend because we were invited up to the Walk of Fame here in the States, which was incredible. There were a lot of different artists there: Patti LaBelle, Sister Sledge, Jill Scott. So Kath and I of course do all of these things together. When you come together as a family at home, you just bring the meal that you cook the best, and you sit down, and you’re silly! You still have family meals together. 

You’ve spoken before about the importance of singing live and the interaction between the artists and the audience. What's your favourite thing about performing live?

I would have to say absolutely, there is nothing like performing to a live audience. Every show is different; every night is different because every audience is different. We were once doing a show in Las Vegas, and it was a huge concert, and there was this guy – and he was called Stan. We called him 'Stan the Man'. And Stan the Man could dance. He got on stage and it was wild! He was a ladies man too - it was amazing, truly you know (laughter). You just don’t know who’s gunna' be out there, and the fun thing is that folks are there to have a good time. That’s the best thing about this tour coming up because these are artists who have been trained – not just in their performance – but also to bring their love and passion to the music. You can always learn how to do a box dance, but when you let loose [dancing] it’s just in you. 

Image by Carolina Faruolo

You've all written your own songs and bring something extremely personal to your music. Can you tell us anything about your writing process? Is it completely collaborative?

When we started out, and we still do this when we perform this on stage, it was always a group where everybody sang. When we did ‘We Are Family’, the time we signed with Atlantic [Records], that was when the Jackson 5 were about (so a long time ago), and everything was about the ‘young’. It was funny because Debbie did most of the leads when we did our club scenes and concerts, because she had the strongest voice. She had the most beautiful voice – so she could stretch out and do anything, we used to call her 'The Waterfall'. They wanted that ‘Bubblegum sound’ (it was called that at the time). It has always been a group effort, that’s how we were trained and that’s why a cappella singing was so important to us too - because of the harmonies. So songs that we have performed and created have always featured vocal arranging and vocal harmonies. 

Your career has been so immense and you’ve worked alongside so many great artists - if you could pick a highlight from your career, what would it be? 

Gosh. There are a couple of things that stand out as being very unique. I remember when we were recording ‘We Are Family’ - and it’s so funny (laughter) – we were all in New York in what was called Powerstation Studio at the time, and everybody recorded there. I remember one morning we were in the studio early, and I went out to the lounge area to get some coffee. I was standing there, and I look up, and the person next to me is like, “Hey, how you doin’, I’m just so sleepy”. So I’m just pouring coffee and waiting for the machine…and it was Mick Jagger. It was too early to register, you know (laughter). 

I remember another little thing - we were travelling to Africa and there was a chartered plane that was full of stars. For us it was super amazing, our eyes were like saucers looking at all of these mega stars and we were on this tour with them. And Joni had been teaching James Brown a line of French (she spoke French fluently). The people in the region we were going to spoke French and she tried to teach him just to say, "I am James Brown". Just "Je suis James Brown". She said to him, look, it’s just, "Je suis" and kept repeating, "Je suis! Je suis!"

...And he couldn’t get it. So, Joni said, "Ok, here you go…say sweet potato" (because all of his ad-libs at the time involved fruit). It was so funny. So basically, James Brown learnt how to say 'Je suis' from 'Sweet potato' by pronouncing ‘suis’ like ‘sweet’. That’s insanity. 

We just had some amazing moments with some amazing stars. I remember on a tour with Michael Jackson – oh gosh – we were touring and doing 'Girls Against Guys' tour in the States. We would play one day and they would play one day. What was really funny was that after the concerts we would pack up and get in our buses and then go to truck stops. We would all get out of our bus and wear hoodies. We used to crack up because we were trying to be incognito. But we would all line up, go inside and sit at these truck stops at four in the morning eating eggs and bacon in our matching hoodies. These are all little moments with nice people that just made our career. 

You’ve mentioned travelling to Africa on a world tour, and you must have seen so many countries over the years. Is travelling something you enjoy as a group?

I can honestly say...absolutely. The world is so vast, and the amazing thing is that you get to see totally different cultures with a totally different beat. We have been to Morocco and Bangkok...all the fresh food and seafood and people...everything is very interesting and I think travel is a very important thing. If you get a chance to, watch programmes that feature international places. You really get a chance to see how other people are living, so that when you do eventually go you know exactly what you want to do. Like, go to a market. Read the paper before you go so you can find out where the sales are (laughter). 

It must be such an amazing feeling to play at world-famous venues like Carnegie Hall, Glastonbury, Nakano Sun Plaza and Madison Square Garden (to name but a few). Is there a particular venue that’s close to your heart?

I loved being in Scotland in Inverness. I loved how pretty it was. If we go back there I’m just going to camp out! I love being at the Royal Albert Hall. Some places you go and there’s just something about the atmosphere. Audiences are different – sometimes you walk in and you can feel the energy. We did one tour and did some side gigs and I remember going to an outdoor park that we did on the side. Just being out on the street with the folks and the neighbourhood was so much fun. Those kinds of gigs are brilliant because folks were just hanging out with their families! You can stop the gig and shout to the person eating a hotdog, "Can you bring me one of those up on stage please?" (laughter). You can take your shoes off and just really enjoy being right in the middle of folk. Those are the best moments for me. You carry those with you for the rest of your life. 

Your music crosses genres delving into Jazz, Soul, R&B, Gospel and World Music. How did you initially become part of the Disco music movement?

It’s so interesting because we didn’t even know we were (laughter). For us it was just always dance. It was always dance music, so when the charts for different genres came out and we were hitting the Disco charts we felt we were simultaneously Disco and R&B and Pop. It would be the same song on different charts. For us, it was whether a song had a good dance beat. We'd think, "Can we harmonise. Can we really sing this?" That’s what it was always about. I can say, however, it’s an honour to be associated with any form of music because I think there is excellence in all forms of music. I really believe that music is about healing, and is a life giver – it inspires people and influences people. To have been given the gift of that tool, to take it around the world and make somebody’s day better is such an honour. It really is. I thank God everyday for the privilege that we have been given to do that. 

'We Are Family' Album Cover 1979 

You mentioned music has the power to inspire people. Are there any musicians that have inspired you throughout your career? 

Absolutely James Brown. I cannot sit still if a James Brown beat comes on, I’m up - from very early on and even to this day. I can be in a gown and it doesn’t matter – it’s just gunna happen. I love all kinds of music, from Roberta Flack to Shakira. I love Adelle, I love Bill Scott, oh my gosh...there’s so many genres out there and I really admire being able to influence. To believe in music and be positive. There’s nothing wrong with music being political – goodness gracious I could go back and think about some of the spiritual songs like 'A Bridge Over Troubled Water'. That’s classic but also spiritual. Even 'You’ve Got A Friend – Carole King'. For me, music should be used to encourage and inspire. It hurts a little – it hurts a lot actually – when I see music encouraging people to do negative things because it’s not supposed to. Music is a life-giver and a healer. 

Finally, for the upcoming tour, of course we will all be looking forward to the classics. But I’m itching to know if you have any new music in the pipeline? 

Well, actually we do have some new music, and you will be hearing some of it. We actually have some stuff we worked on with Joni too. 


We have some incredible stuff. Some songs Joni actually had just finished before she died, and we want to absolutely feature those too. If music is good, it is timeless. I have to say on a spiritual note – and I’m going to say this because this is where our hearts are - we know that Joni is with the Lord, we are believers. Joni’s life was laid down with a gift and that gift is eternal. Her gift is music. That may seem a little surreal and hard to wrap our arms around, but if you think about it, music is timeless and can help us to appreciate and love. Her saying was, "It’s easier to love". That’s the name of a song from one of our albums and she used to sing it when we performed. It was so true. It’s easier to love than to hate - and that’s so truthful. 


The interview ended with this beautiful message – and Kim explained that herself, Debbie and Kathy are able to remember their sister Joni through the music they created together. Debbie and Kim’s decision to continue performing as Sister Sledge is both brave and empowering, allowing the message that ‘Nothing is greater than love’ to be spread through their uplifting music. 


40 Years of Disco comes to Birmingham’s Genting Arena 17th March 2018 (it’s a Saturday). Get tickets now to avoid missing out on this incredible event. Just click the link here.

For more information and details of the legendary line-up have a gander at our article ’40 Years of Disco Comes to Birmingham’

With the sad news that Eddy Amoo recently passed away, The Real Thing will not be taking part on the forthcoming 40 Years of Disco UK tour, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends along with bandmates Chris & Dave at this time.

Replacing them on the tour will be Eban Brown former lead singer of The Stylistics who will perform a selection of The Stylistics biggest hits. 

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