Growing up in one of the only Black families in their west Philadelphia neighbourhood, the sisters Sledge were on the sharp end of racism in ’60s and ’70s America. Kathy Sledge, the youngest in a family that would go on to be disco queens, remembers going to school under police protection. “Our parents were worried about our safety,” she says.
But it was also a childhood filled with music. At just 12 years old, Kathy started performing at paid gigs along with her siblings and went on to tour around the US east coast. As disco fever swept the world in the late ’70s, Sister Sledge partnered with Nile Rodgers to catch the mood and enjoyed an international breakthrough. Four decades on, We Are Family remains a dancefloor-filler around the world.
Speaking to The Big Issue ahead of a European tour, Kathy says that she has never forgotten the struggle her family faced. A passionate supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, she says “Martin Luther King and others who died for Black people’s rights would be so proud of how far the world has come”.
Throughout lockdown Kathy has been spreading a message of positivity and family solidarity through Instagram Live. Working with her daughter Kristen on the Family Room series was “sheer joy” says Kathy, but nothing will ever replace the thrill of playing to a live audience.
The Big Issue: Why did you follow a solo career, after years in Sister Sledge?
Kathy Sledge: Information about me leaving the group has been very misleading over the years and I’m fixing that now. I was asked to do a solo project but I was given an ultimatum by my sisters. I was told I could not do a solo project unless I left the group. I was sued by my sisters after leaving in 1989. It’s very important to grow with your music and no one should stop you from growing with your music. I would like to clear up the myth that I left for a solo career because that is not what happened, I was asked to leave. I was even stopped from performing under the name Sister Sledge and sued by my sisters, but I feel things have come full circle now, we are still sisters.