Debbie Sledge: STILL LOST IN MUSIC
Debbie Sledge: STILL LOST IN MUSIC
We talk to Debbie Sledge about the lasting legacy of Sister Sledge and her tour with the next generation of the family…
With iconic songs such as We Are Family and Lost in Music, Sister Sledge became dancefloor legends. The Philadelphia group, made up of sisters Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim, amassed a string of Gold and Platinum hits, with sales of some 20,000,000 worldwide. Following the death of Joni Sledge in 2017, the group evolved into Sister Sledge featuring Slegendary, which is led by Debbie, and includes two of her children Camille and David, Thaddeus Sledge (Joni’s son) and close friend Tanya Ti-et. In 2022, the family released Free, the first single as a collective in almost 20 years. And Slegendary is now bringing its high-energy set to the Royal Albert Hall in June.
“We can’t wait to bring our family vibe to this glorious hall and blast out some fun,” laughs Debbie. “We toured a lot last year, had a little break and now everyone is raring to go again.”
Debbie has been in the music business for over 50 years and is still hugely passionate about what she does and playing the hits that shot Sister Sledge to fame. “We are very blessed to still be sharing these songs. And now it’s the audience sharing the songs with us, too. We are having these great sing-alongs. And we are always going to find the greatest dancer in the audience!”
She’s also loving working with the new generation, although admits she has to find the line between mother and aunty and leader of the group. “I’m having a ball working with my family – my kids and my nephew and Tanya – who I count as family. On the flipside you have to strike a balance – you are working with these great artists who are all very creative. And as an artist, you are very giving of yourself. But at the same time, you are making decisions as a boss. So you have to be sensitive.”
Did she have any advice for her young relatives? “Just explore that thing that is in you. Use your wealth of talent and creativity and don’t hold back – but also, perfect your craft and learn to judge when the timing is right to release something.” The group is very much looking forward to coming to London. “We are coming a bit earlier to get another rehearsal in and hopefully see some of London. Some of the group might go straight for the shopping or we might head to the parks – I love that London has nature in the middle of the city.”
Debbie’s favourite song to perform is Thinking of You. “It’s very beautiful. We play with the vocal arrangements so we have new spins on it. The main thing is the message of love – we’re in the love zone. A lot of people in the audience go into the zone too.”
As she looks back on her career, Debbie says that it is love – and unity – that has always come through. “Our family has been through a lot – the loss of family members, conflicts – these are things that all families go through but when it happens with ours it is sometimes very public. That can be hurtful. But I’m very proud that love is there and the future looks very bright. Right now, my sisters are doing something they love and not necessarily projects together but I’m certain that is in the future and that makes me happy. And right now I’m having a great time with the second generation.” She says that much can be accomplished with unity. “Our message is that family is very powerful and that love and unity are overcoming. It may not necessarily be your blood family but there is so much that can be done with unity.
As to what’s next, she says she has dreams rather than ambitions. “I want to fulfil dreams – doing something for the love of it. So I will pursue my love for jazz music again and I will also return to painting. I am not going to give that up.”
Debbie lives in Arizona with her second husband Jeroen de Bruine – they have just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. The couple met after the group pulled him out of the crowd to dance on stage.
At home, Debbie says she loves being out in the sunshine but admits to spending a lot of time indoors working on her computer. She is about to turn 69 and still looks youthful and healthy. But says: “I’m not very good at keeping fit but I am going to do more walking. I’ve been doing some little exercises as I go about my day. Just calisthenics to keep my body going because at my age I have to keep moving.”
She does look after her voice well, and teaches the younger members of Slegendary about the importance of vocal warm-ups, much as her grandmother, the opera singer Viola Williams, did for the Sledge sisters. “We also take a lot of honey and lemon, which I learnt from my grandmother, and not to do any heavy coughing.”
The sisters were born into a showbiz family – her father was Broadway tap dancer Edwin Sledge and her mother was actress Florez Sledge. She says that her grandmother and the women in her family have had the biggest influence on her. “My grandmother got us into singing. She taught us diction, how to project. My mom taught me, with her love for jazz, how important phrasing is and how to tell a story in music. My sister Carol taught us the joy of singing. We would sing around the house and perform for each other. I am trying to pass that on to my children: to enjoy the gift they have.”
Sister Sledge, featuring Slegendary, 8 June, Royal Albert Hall,