Joni Sledge in August 2006. Credit Fred Prouser/Reuters

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.

Correction: March 14, 2017
A picture with an earlier version of this obituary was published in error. The photograph, provided by Getty Images, was of Debbie Sledge, not Joni Sledge.SOURCE



No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

Takashi Seida/REX/Shutterstock

March 21, 2017 | 10:32PM PT

Chuck Barris, who hosted “The Gong Show” and created “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” died Tuesday of natural causes in Palisades, N.Y., his publicist confirmed. He was 87.

His autobiography, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” was made into a film directed by George Clooney and starred Sam Rockwell as Barris. In the book (subtitled “An Unauthorized Autobiography”), he claimed to have worked for the CIA as an assassin during the 1960s and ’70s, a claim which the CIA denied. “He also fabricated his life because it might have been the best way of getting at the truth. The truth was that back when he was the Jerry Springer of his day, he couldn’t stomach being attacked for doing something he considered harmless,” wrote Joel Stein in Time magazine.

The multi-talented game show creator was also a songwriter, writing songs such as “Palisades Park” as well as music for his game shows.

Born Charles Hirsch Barris in Philadelphia, he started out working as a page at NBC in New York, then worked backstage at “American Bandstand.” “Palisades Park” was recorded by Freddy Cannon and hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

He formed Chuck Barris Productions in 1965 and created “The Dating Game,” hosted by Jim Lange, which introduced swinging 1960s double entendres to the formerly staid game show genre and ran for 11 out of the next 15 years. In 1966 he launched “The Newlywed Game,” hosted by Bob Eubanks, which ran for 19 years; Game Show Network still airs a version of the show.

Over his long career, Barris wore many hits, from pop singer to author to film producer. He also produced the original 1966 off-Broadway staging of the musical “Dames at Sea,” which starred Bernadette Peters.

Barris worked as a programming executive at ABC for about a year before launching the Chuck Barris Productions banner in 1965 with a $20,000 loan from his stepfather. Three years later, the company was delivering 22 half-hours of programming to networks per week. It went public in 1968.

Barris finally made it in front of the camera when he began hosting “The Gong Show” in 1976. Though it only ran two years on NBC and four years in syndication, the show is still remembered for its wacky spoof of the talent show format. He introduced the amateur contestants dressed in colorful clothing with odd props, with judges Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan and Arte Johnson adding to the goofy atmosphere. Other offbeat characters on the show included “Gene Gene the Dancing Machine” and Murray Langston, the “Unknown Comic,” who wore a paper bag over his head.

The show was so popular it spawned a feature film, “The Gong Show Movie,” which failed to catch on the way the TV show had.

Among the other shows he created or produced were a revival of “Your Hit Parade,” “Three’s a Crowd,” which faced criticism as it seemed to promote adultery; “Camouflage,” and “Treasure Hunt.”

In the 1980s after a period living in France, he formed Barris Industries and revived “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game” before selling his shares in the company to Burt Sugarman. Barris Industries acquired Guber-Peters Productions, which was then acquired by Sony Corporation.

Barris’ books include the novels “You and Me, Babe” (1974) and “The Big Question” (2007). In 2010 he published “Della: A Memoir of My Daughter,” recalling his only child, who died of a drug overdose at age 36.

Barris is survived by his wife, Mary.

Donations may be made to the New York Police Foundation.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.




Derek Walcott in 1986. Credit Jill Krementz, All Rights Reserved

Derek Walcott, whose intricately metaphorical poetry captured the physical beauty of the Caribbean, the harsh legacy of colonialism and the complexities of living and writing in two cultural worlds, bringing him a Nobel Prize in Literature, died early Friday morning at his home near Gros Islet in St. Lucia. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. No cause was given, but he had been in poor health for some time, the publisher said.

Mr. Walcott’s expansive universe revolved around a tiny sun, the island of St. Lucia. Its opulent vegetation, blinding white beaches and tangled multicultural heritage inspired, in its most famous literary son, an ambitious body of work that seemingly embraced every poetic form, from the short lyric to the epic.

With the publication of the collection “In a Green Night” in 1962, critics and poets, Robert Lowell among them, leapt to recognize a powerful new voice in Caribbean literature and to praise the sheer musicality of Mr. Walcott’s verse, the immediacy of its visual images, its profound sense of place.

He had first attracted attention on St. Lucia with a book of poems that he published himself as a teenager. Early on, he showed a remarkable ear for the music of English — heard in the poets whose work he absorbed in his Anglocentric education and on the lips of his fellow St. Lucians — and a painter’s eye for the particulars of the local landscape: its beaches and clouds; its turtles, crabs and tropical fish; the sparkling expanse of the Caribbean.

I seek,
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water.

He told The Economist in 1990: “The sea is always present. It’s always visible. All the roads lead to it. I consider the sound of the sea to be part of my body. And if you say in patois, ‘The boats are coming back,’ the beat of that line, its metrical space, has to do with the sound and rhythm of the sea itself.”

There was nothing shy about Mr. Walcott’s poetic voice. It demanded to be heard, in all its sensuous immediacy and historical complexity.

“I come from a place that likes grandeur; it likes large gestures; it is not inhibited by flourish; it is a rhetorical society; it is a society of physical performance; it is a society of style,” he told The Paris Review in 1985. “I grew up in a place in which if you learned poetry, you shouted it out. Boys would scream it out and perform it and do it and flourish it. If you wanted to approximate that thunder or that power of speech, it couldn’t be done by a little modest voice in which you muttered something to someone else.”

Derek Walcott at home in Saint Lucia after he awarded the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature. Credit Micheline Pelletier/Corbis, via Getty Images

Mr. Walcott quickly won recognition as one of the finest poets writing in English and as an enormously ambitious artist — ambitious for himself, his art and his people.

Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The prize committee cited him for “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.”

As a poet, Mr. Walcott plumbed the paradoxes of identity intrinsic to his situation. He was a mixed-race poet living on a British-ruled island whose people spoke French-based Creole or English.

Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?

Derek Alton Walcott was born on Jan. 23, 1930, in Castries, a port city on the island of St. Lucia. His father, Warwick, a schoolteacher and watercolorist, died when he was an infant, and he was raised by his schoolteacher mother, the former Alix Maarlin.

Both his parents, like many St. Lucians, were the products of racially mixed marriages. Derek was raised as a Methodist, which made him an exception on St. Lucia, a largely Roman Catholic island, and at his Catholic secondary school, St. Mary’s College.

Published in 1973, “Another Life” is a 4,000-line inquiry into Mr. Walcott’s life and surroundings. Credit Farrar, Straus and Giroux

He published his first poem at 14, in a local newspaper. With a loan from his mother, he began publishing his poetry in pamphlets while still at St. Mary’s. His early models were Marlowe and Milton.

At the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where he majored in French, Latin and Spanish, he began writing plays, entering into a lifelong but rocky love affair with the theater. His first play, about the revolutionary Haitian leader Henri Christophe, was produced in St. Lucia in 1950.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1953, Mr. Walcott taught school in St. Lucia, Grenada and Jamaica while continuing to write and stage plays. His verse dramas “Ione” and “Sea at Dauphin” were produced in Trinidad in 1954. “Ti-Jean and His Brothers,” a retelling of a Trinidadian folk tale in which Lucifer tries to steal the souls of three brothers, was produced in Trinidad in 1958.

Mr. Walcott studied directing with José Quintero in New York for a year and, on returning to the West Indies, founded a repertory company, the Little Carib Theater Workshop, which in the late 1960s became the Trinidad Theater Workshop. One of the group’s first productions was Mr. Walcott’s “Malcochon.”

“The Prodigal,” from 2004, is a late-life summation with a distinctly elegiac undercurrent. Credit Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The lyric strain in Mr. Walcott’s poetry never disappeared, but he increasingly took on complex narrative projects and expanded his vision of the Caribbean to accommodate an epic treatment of the themes that had always engaged him. The artistic self-portrait of “Another Life,” with its rich, metaphor-heavy intertwining of the artist’s developing sensibility and the lush landscape of St. Lucia, set the bar for Mr. Walcott’s later, increasingly ambitious poetry.

Travel and exile were constants in Mr. Walcott’s poetry. “Tiepolo’s Hound” (2000) presented a dual portrait of the author and the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, who spent his childhood in the Caribbean before being transplanted to Paris. Like his father, Mr. Walcott was an accomplished watercolorist; his landscape paintings appear on his book jackets, and in “Tiepolo’s Hound” they are interspersed through the book.

The wanderings in “Omeros” were rivaled by Mr. Walcott’s own zigzag itinerary as a teacher and lecturer at universities around the world. He taught at Boston University from 1981 until retiring in 2007, dividing his time among Boston, New York and St. Lucia but constantly en route.

“The Prodigal” (2004), a late-life summation with a distinctly elegiac undercurrent, offered a glimpse of the author’s restless movements, which take him, in the course of the poem, to Italy, Colombia, France and Mexico. “Prodigal, what were your wanderings about?” he wrote. “The smoke of homecoming, the smoke of departure.”

“I am disappointed that such low tactics have been used in this election, and I do not want to get into a race for a post where it causes embarrassment to those who have chosen to support me for the role or to myself,” he told The Evening Standard of London. He added, “While I was happy to be put forward for the post, if it has degenerated into a low and degrading attempt at character assassination, I do not want to be part of it.”

Mr. Walcott was always conscious of writing as a man apart, from a corner of the world whose literature was in its infancy. This peculiar position, he argued, had its advantages. “There can be virtues in deprivation,” he said in his Nobel lecture, describing the “luck” of being present in the early morning of a culture.

“For every poet, it is always morning in the world,” he said. “History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.”

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