`AN EVENING WITH SARAH DASH’ Former LaBelle Singer Spills The Tea
They were known for their bizarre, space-age costumes with shiny lame’ and grand plumage of feathers. Their mega-hit `Lady Marmalade’ elevated them to international stardom. `LaBelle’ was the sexy trio of ladies: Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash, and Nona Hendryx, who shifted the needle of pop music in the 70s. SARAH DASH, the mini dynamo of the group, who was known as `The Voice’ recently dropped some precious gems during the “Musical Chairs” – Conversation series, hosted
THE DASH CONNECTION
“Did you know that Sarah is related to everybody, including all of the Dash’s in show business?” was Isoul’s opening question during the revealing one-on-one interview. “Sarah Dash is related to Lil Kim and MC Lyte, music mogul Damon Dash, movie director Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) and actress Stacy Dash. “I am Bajan. My family roots are in Barbados and that’s where we meet every year for our family reunion,” revealed Sarah. A piece of information I never knew.
THE ORIGINAL GROUP
Sarah grew up in New Jersey, her father a Pentecostal Pastor, who emphasized education and even had some extra money saved in case her musical career did not work out. Before captivating the global arena as a member of LaBelle, the group was a foursome with singer Cindy Birdsong making up the then `Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells.’ When Cindy left the group to join the Supremes, the group became `LaBelle’ Sarah recalls, “When Cindy left the group and joined the then top female group The Supremes, they were riding high and we were still struggling, Patti was very upset. it was extremely hard for Patti when Cindy left, it wasn’t a pretty scene. But we crossed that bridge. We are all friendly now.” Sarah added that presently she’s one of Cindy’s caregivers since she’d been ill. She also mentioned that whenever she goes to Los Angeles, she sees Diana Ross’ sons and they try to get her to go to their home.
Sarah expounded on the fashion that LaBelle was known for, mainly her space-aged lame’ body suits. “We took the clothing to another level, at that time we had our individual style and realized that wearing the gowns and same hairstyles were not expressive of our individual styles….I welcomed it because I saw that the old school style was fading away. Musically, we changed also, we had our own sound.” Isoul reiterated that Sarah was known as the pretty one in the trio, but also the one with the vocal chops. Sarah laughed it off noting, “I was the one that stayed on stage while Patti and Nona went out into the audience because when I went out in the crowd, I’d come back to the stage with barely anything on. The audience would literally try to strip me. I was the shortest one and balanced the group out.” Sarah emphasized that she was well aware that – “God gave me a gift…and we had an anointing.”
“We opened for Smokey Robinson at the Apollo and stole the show. He didn’t talk to us for a long time. We showed him up, and, went to London where we were the first Black American group to appear on a London Television show. We were the first Black group to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. We were the first Black act to appear at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York.” The group was under the keen and professional management of Vicky Wyckham at that time.
So how did the whole `Lady Marmalade’ phenomenon came about? Sarah recalled that the song was first introduced at the CBS yearly convention. “We were signed to Epic Records which was under the CBS umbrella. A producer took it back to France under CBS France, and then it hit Brussels and Spain, then it hit the US market. We had not played in places like Seattle, and the Catholic groups began to protest and rebel, because of what we were saying in the song. At the end of the day, we had the best following in Seattle and all of the shows were sold out.”
Sarah said that there was no segregation in terms of fans and audiences LaBelle played for. “We were dealing with a renaissance that was happening in New York. We bridge that gap and brought people together. We supported everything and everybody – the gays, the straight, black, white, everybody. We all came from large families, there were 13 children in our family, Nona had a family of 9, Patti had a large family, plus she adopted a neighbor’s kids. So we were all people persons. We had no separation. My father, being a Pastor, we always had different people in our house, even when we were kids there was always people – homeless people, white people – You’ve got to be taught to hate.”
Since her days with LaBelle, Sarah has had a solo career which birthed the hit song `Sinner Man’ during which she also took courses at New York University. Sarah credits her parents for keeping her grounded through the ups and downs of her career. She revealed that her father had put aside some money for her solo career. “My parents knew who they raised, they never had to get me out of jail or rehab, plus I had people in the music industry who cared…like singer Jerry Butler, saxophonist David Sanborn, and Music producer, publisher, and promoter Don Kirshner.”