When Sylvester Stewart was born on March 15, 1943, no one knew that one of the kings of funk, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll had just touched down on Planet Earth. Once he changed his name to Sly Stone and began performing with his band The Family Stone, listeners were very, very aware. Among the first racially integrated, male and female acts in popular music, Sly & The Family Stone made indelible, transformative, era-defining hits, songs that got artists-to-be like Prince, Rick James, George Clinton and the like to ponder ways in which to copy, then extend the sound that flowed from Stone and his band, like most people exhale breath.
Count ‘em up: "Dance to the Music,” "Everyday People,” "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin,” "Family Affair," "Everybody Is a Star," "Hot Fun in the Summertime," “If You Want Me to Stay.” Albums like Stand!, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, and Fresh. For a period of six or seven years, as the ‘60s ended and the ‘70s began, there were few artists that could match Stone song for song, album for album, as he documented the era and its effects on the Black community, youth of all colors and his own psyche.
As the ‘70s progressed, things fell apart for the band and its leader - heavy drug use and legal problems weighed down on them, tearing apart that which had held so much promise, that which had shone so brightly. Even the thing for which they were perhaps best known - live performance - could no longer be relied upon.
But those who saw Sly & The Family Stone at their peak could attest to their power, their unity, which they beamed out to crowds the world over. None were bigger than the 400,000 or so who saw them at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969, when they filled the mass of humanity gathered with good vibes and a lot of soul.
Here they are, performing “I Want to Take You Higher” that evening: