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'We Are Family' Singer Joni Sledge Dies At 60

Joni Sledge, one of the original members of Sister Sledge, (second from left) posing with Rodney Jerkins (second from right), her niece Camille Sledge (left) and her cousin Amber Sledge in 2006 in Century City, Calif.
Chris Polk
Associated Press

Joni Sledge of the group Sister Sledge, best known for the iconic disco 1979 anthem We Are Family, has died at 60.

The group's publicist, Biff Warren, said Sledge was found at home in Arizona and they have yet to determine a cause of death. She had not been ill, he said.

"We miss her and hurt for her presence, her radiance, and the sincerity with which she loved & embraced life," the group said in a statement.

Sister Sledge was originally made up of Joni and three of her sisters — Debbie, Kim, and Kathy — though Kathy parted ways with the group in 1989. They hailed from Philadelphia and formed the group in the early 70s, inspired by their opera-singing grandmother.

Their biggest hit, "We Are Family", written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, came eight years after they got together and during a difficult time for the group professionally.

"We were saying: 'Well, maybe we should go to college and just become lawyers or something other than music, because it really is tough,'" Sledge told The Guardian in an interview last year.

The We Are Family recording session (their big hit was also the title of the album on which it was recorded) "was like a one-take party – we were just dancing and playing around and hanging out in the studio when we did it," she added.

Another song from the same album, "He's the Greatest Dancer," also climbed the charts and was later sampled in Will Smith's hit 1998 single "Gettin' Jiggy wit It."

Sledge also "wrote several of the songs on, and produced, their album African Eyes (1997), which was nominated for a best-production Grammy," according to the Guardian.

"Joni's in her glory on stage," her sister Kim said in a video from the group. "She's exactly where she was created to be, and performing with her on stage, you see it and you feel it. She was born to perform."

Sister Sledge was still touring, despite the fact that their biggest hit came out almost 40 years ago. They performed for Pope Francis in 2015, and last played as a group in October, as Rolling Stone reported. They were scheduled to play in Louisiana next week and had performances in Europe coming up.

"I can't remember not singing," Sledge said in a BBC interview in 2015, where she spoke about the enduring power of disco. "The word disco, I think, was a cool thing to say because it was the first time everyone gathered together just for the sake of fun. And dance music will never go away. It'll be here forever."

She concluded: "As long as people love to dance, we'll be dancing."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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