Since it's a proven fact that rare talent cannot stay hidden indefinitely, you really shouldn't be at all surprised that Sister Sledge are currently reaping their just rewards in this country by way of having a belated hit with "Mama Never Told Me", a record that was recorded two years ago, released one year ago and discarded in favour of more recent product. But some astute executive within Atlantic's London bastille obviously knew something the rest of us didn't and it has brought well-earned success to four of the loveliest Philly foxes we've ever had the pleasure to write about. Of course, the sisters did a lot of the groundwork for this hit during their European tour with the Atlantic Super Soul gang (the Spinners, Ben E. King and Jimmy Castor's Bunch) and I think it's fair to say that the talented quartet walked off with more than their fair share of accolades from the tour. It's all that little bit more pleasing to anyone who knows the sisters — Joni, Kathie, Debbie and Kim — because any acknowledgement will be received so gratefully by the girls themselves.
What was there about Europe that caught their eyes? "We wanted to meet the people and soak in the culture," the dazzingly beautiful Joni seriously stressed. "We were in Germany, France and here in England and I have to admit that I, personally, enjoyed London and England the most. In some ways it's like home, Philadelphia — but there's so much hassle in Philly that you don't seem to live with here. But I love the old buildings and their architecture. Yes, I enjoyed Paris — or what I saw of it — but I still prefer London."
Two years ago, any discerning soul fan would have been forgiven for not knowing the name of Sister Sledge but now, following a European tour, an African tour (also with the Spinners, who share the same astute manager) and a string of sizeable hits in their home country, the girls are rated as perhaps the most exciting girl vocal group on the immediate horizon. To underline the trade's faith in them, they have been selected to represent America at this year's Tokyo Music Festival, which was won last year by another group of Philly's finest, the Three Degrees. The close family unity is the backbone of the group and the girl's respect and admiration for their mother and grandmother is truly admirable — and that is where their religious respect comes from. "We give all credit to God," Joni insisted, "because it was through him that we were fortunate enough to have the ability and through him that we met the people who have taken us this far. It was through him that we came to Atlantic Records and it was through him that we met our manager, Buddy Allen. Our early guidance comes from our teaching in church — we were always known as Mrs. Williams Grandchildren because she was a teacher at the church and she helped us every step of the way. As sisters, we've always been close, real close — people would always joke that if you see one of us, you'd see all four. But we were 4, 5, 6 and 8 when we first started singing together in church. Singing and entertaining is in our bones I guess you'd say. Our mother was an actress, singer and dancer and our father a dancer. And our grandmother was an opera singer and they have been our three greatest influences."
Are there any more at home like this dynamic and delectable quartet? "Yes," Joni immediately pointed out, "we have one elder sister, Carol, and she has a really beautiful voice. When we were young, she used to teach us all of our songs but she suffers a little from stage fright. She tried to make it with a group called Genesis but nothing ever happened. But she has always been a little apart from us — or should I say she was never as close as the other three are because she is, after all, that much older and has always had her own friends. Sure, we do miss her and I guess that our greatest wish would be that someday she might join our group. And there are times when we really do need a five part harmony so it would be good for the group."
You may have noticed that the four overseas tours that the sisters have taken part in have been headlined by the Spinners and it is this talented and amiable bunch of guys that the girls credit with so much of their experience. "We've learned such a lot from the Spinners," Joni willingly concedes. "Without them, we would never have had so many opportunities made available to us. And we have now got the background behind us to encourage us to strive for bigger and better things and that could have never come about without the Spinners. Right now, we are working on our own sixty minute show that will include diverse things such as impersonations, for example."
But with all of this activity going on, the four teenagers still find time to continue their studies. Joni is studying dramatics and acting and hopes one day to graduate as a theatre major. This, she feels, will help the group to fulfil some of their other dreams and goals. Kim is studying sociology and psychology as well as journalism via a business course and this, she hopes, will allow her to become involved in the business affairs of the group. And all four girls will immediately point out that they take their studying very seriously indeed and that on any long tour, they will always bring along a tutor so that Kathie will enjoy the same standard of education that they all did. "We'll stay on in college until we feel we are ready and that won't be until we have all finished our courses," Joni seriously explains.
Meanwhile, the four sisters are ready to start work on their second album for Atlantic and again Tony Sylvester and Bert deCoteaux will be at the helm. "They will all be original songs," Joni insists. "Kathie has written two songs that we all love — one is called "Top Of The World" and it's really very, very good. And I have written a couple with our guitarist."
With so much activity going, it sounds like these four sisters will be living a fairly hectic life for quite a while to come but somehow I think they'll cope and emerge as genuine superstars before too long.