Joni Sledge, who along with her three sisters formed the disco-era family quartet Sister Sledge, best known for the hit song “We Are Family,” was found dead in her home in Phoenix on Friday. She was 60.
Her sisters announced her death in a statement on Facebook. The cause has not been determined, the band’s publicist, Biff Warren, said on Sunday.
Ms. Sledge was the second oldest sister in the family act, along with Debbie, Kim and Kathy, who founded Sister Sledge in 1971, when they were all under 21. Sister Sledge first played at churches and events around Philadelphia and then toured for many years, opening for big acts like the Spinners while the sisters were in high school and college.
By the mid-1970s, while Joni Sledge was attending Temple University, Sister Sledge was the only female vocal group signed to Atlantic Records. Its singing talents had attracted a loyal following; its 1974 debut album, “Circle of Love,” climbed the R&B charts; and the sisters drew comparisons to the Jackson 5.
After playing shows in smaller clubs in Harlem, Sister Sledge had one of its first big shows in 1975, opening for Marvin Gaye at Radio City Music Hall. A review in The New York Times said the “liveliest part of the show” was the four sisters.
In 1979, Sister Sledge gained mainstream success with the hit album “We Are Family,” which included the single by the same name, which was adopted by the 1979 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates as their theme song, and has endured as a disco anthem. Its memorable chorus — “We are family/I got all my sisters with me” — reflected the group’s wholesome message of togetherness, and the song shot up the single charts, peaking at No. 2.
Sister Sledge enjoyed commercial success into the early 1980s and had several Top 20 hit songs, including “My Guy” and “Frankie.” But their commercial success started to fade with Kathy’s departure in 1989 to start a solo career. The three remaining sisters continued to tour and record music, and Kathy occasionally reunited for shows.
When Sister Sledge performed for Pope Francis in 2015 in Philadelphia, Kathy was absent. She said her sisters refused to let her participate, and in a statement released on her behalf, she blamed a “familial dispute that has long been developing between the sisters.”
Joan Elise Sledge was born on Sept. 13, 1956, in Philadelphia to Edwin Sledge, a performer on Broadway, and Florez Sledge, an actress who oversaw her daughters’ careers as their business manager and traveled with them on tours.
In addition to her sisters, Ms. Sledge is survived by her son, Thaddeus.