How Sister Sledge Came from Behind on "We Are Family"

Sister Sledge in 1977: L-R, Kathy, Joni, Debbie, Kim
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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

After making it as musicians, the core members of Chic embarked on a new mission: start writing hits for other acts.

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the guitarist and bassist who served as the writers and producers of the legendary disco group, finally broke in a big way at the end of 1978 and beginning of 1979, when their single "Le Freak" topped the Billboard charts for six non-consecutive weeks. Flush with success, Jerry Greenberg, president of their label Atlantic Records, wanted them to collaborate with other acts on the roster.

Read More: December 1978: CHIC Hit No. 1 with "Le Freak"

Rodgers wrote in his memoir Le Freak that they initially differed with Greenberg on who to work with. "He offered us everyone from The Rolling Stones to Bette Midler," he said. "But since superstars were already superstars, we knew that if we wrote and produced hits with them, no one would know what we did." Instead, they asked for a lesser-known band. Greenberg offered Sister Sledge: Philadelphia sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy, who'd put out two albums for the Atco and Cotillion sub-labels with little recognition.

Ultimately, Greenberg unwittingly offered Rodgers and Edwards an idea when describing the group, calling them "a group of sisters that are like family to the label...they stick together like birds of a feather." While the quartet didn't always agree with Chic's lyrics - another song, "He's the Greatest Dancer," featured lyrics that discomforted the religious Sledges - the title track to what would become We Are Family offered a perfect match for singers and songwriter/producers. "Pound for pound," Rodgers wrote, "I think We Are Family is our best album hands down."

In the summer of 1979, "We Are Family" was a juggernaut. It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (kept from the top by Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff") and presaged another Chic hit, that August's chart-topping "Good Times." The We Are Family album reached No. 2, making the Chic Organization one of the most in-demand production teams in the country, and forever giving Sister Sledge an anthem of their own.

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