Music

Sister Sledge's Debbie Sledge on headlining the Stendhal Festival

Disco legends Sister Sledge headline the Stendhal Festival tomorrow evening. Original member Debbie Sledge talks to John Cartwright about the band's greatest moments and its latest incarnation featuring a new generation of Sledge family talent...

Sister Sledge. Picture by Chris Loomis
John Cartwright

IN THE grand scheme of things, very few musical artists achieve legendary status – fewer again can point to songs in their catalogue that are truly iconic. American disco/pop/R'n'B combo Sister Sledge can claim both.

Having enjoyed a meteoric rise in the 1970s at the height of the disco era, Sister Sledge blazed a trail with hit song after hit song that captured the zeitgeist perfectly.

It is now some 51 years since sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy first took to the stage as Sister Sledge, yet their music has become anthemic, particularly for members of the LBGTQ+ community, and is ingrained in popular culture. Hits like We Are Family, He's The Greatest Dancer and Lost in Music are perennial floor-fillers all around the world.

In the 2022 Sister Sledge line-up, Debbie and Kim are now joined on stage by Debbie's son and daughter, David and Camille Sledge, and Joni's son Thaddeus Sledge.

"It's been a fantastic journey," says Debbie Sledge.

"The great thing about this new evolution of the band is the fact that, within this new dynamic, we all feel that there is so much more to be revealed in terms of the artistry, music, talent and performance elements within it.

"It is definitely a bonus for us that some of our newest band members are family by blood but over the years we have learned that you can have family that isn't blood, what is truly important is relationships."

Debbie admitted that, while the family aspect of the band has certainly brought its own difficulties, ultimately the rewards of working so closely with siblings and now offspring massively outweigh any family friction that arose from time to time.

"As a family there is certainly a unique working dynamic in any business but I suppose particularly the music business," Debbie laughed.

"I dare say it may have been easier sometimes if we weren't family, but I would not trade the awesome experience we have shared and the bond it has generated between us for anything. The awards are priceless."

She adds: "My definition for 'family' would include love, respect, honour, positivity, teamwork and growth. These are traits that are not necessarily confined to blood-related family, but rather, strong relationships period. Find your tribe and consider them family."

Looking back through their career, Debbie described many festival highlights.

"It feels like there's an extra special energy that is unique to festival performances," she said.

"So many people sharing this one experience together in a wide-open setting. It feels limitless and free, almost magical, just as it should feel. Just like the music we create and embrace.

"At festivals everyone is in party mode for real, they are always such fun. There are a few stand-out moments for me personally: The Rumble in The Jungle in Zaire still stands out to me, it was an incredible experience."

Zaire '74 was a concert which brought Black American artists together on stage with African performers as part of the carnival surrounding the now legendary George Foreman vs Mohammed Ali fight in 1974. Almost 80,000 people were in attendance as Sister Sledge were joined on the bill by BB King, James Brown, The Pointer Sisters and Bill Withers.

From Zaire in 1974 to Northern Ireland in 2022, Sister Sledge have been all around the world several times over and Debbie says that Ireland is one of the bands favourite places to play.

"We love it in Ireland," she said, "it's such a beautiful country, so much nature and beauty to discover and appreciate.

"We've had loads of great gigs there but one that stands out for us as part of our new band was our gig alongside Bruno Mars in Dublin when we all found out that Thaddeus has a big fan base over there, it was great fun."

In closing, Debbie looked forward to the band's return to Northern Ireland and their headline set at Stendhal.

"We are really excited to have been able to get back on stage after what the world has been through in these past two years. It's wonderful that the stages of the world have been opened back up to performers and audiences alike, so everyone coming to see us at Stendhal should be prepared for us to bust loose.

"All the band have their solo moments, of course we will be performing all the songs people know and love and we will also be playing our new single Free, which really feels apt at this time. We can't wait to see everyone at the festival."

:: Sister Sledge headline Stendhal on Saturday July 2. Tickets and full line-up information via stendhalfestival.com

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