Sarah Dash: Classic Soul 1979 Interview

L-R: Keith Barrow, Sarah Dash and Sylvester in 1979
Photo Credit
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

September 21, 2021, note from David Nathan, founder of

“In 2017, when I was working on a Labelle anthology that included tracks from Sarah’s three solo albums for Kirshner Records.  Because we had enjoyed an ongoing connection through the decades, I reached out to her directly to let her know about the 2CD set I was co-producing with Donald Cleveland for SoulMusic Records.  We chatted and I got some great quotes from Sarah (inducted into The SoulMusic Hall Of Fame by popular vote online in 2018 in the category 'Female Artist' and in 2020, as a member of Labelle in the 'Group' category) who brought wit, intelligence and warmth to our conversation as had frequently been the case over the years.  She asked what tracks we were going to include and was insistent that “I Can’t Believe (Someone Like You Could Really Love Me)” from her self-titled 1978 LP be included.  It took a little extra work to get it added to the track listing…and I was happy to oblige.  Over the years, I didn’t interview Sarah as often as I did Patti or for that matter, Nona…and whenever we did interact, my memories of Sarah are of a spirited, confident and down-to-earth woman who imbued her music and her life with faith and resilience.  Truly, warmth and kindness are qualities I experienced with Sarah over the years and I think of her fondly and with a smile.  Rest peacefully, Ms. Dash, on the wings of love.”

Sarah Dash: Putting It Together Again

By David Nathan

January 1979, in person interview, New York City, in Sarah’s Manhattan apartment

After 16 years with the now legendary team of Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles (who after selling their hearts to the junkmen and disappearing over the rainbow emerged as Labelle complete with glitter, glamour and an established following), Sarah Dash is striking out on her own as she states in this rap with David Nathan….

We're sitting in Sarah Dash's West Side apartment whilst she's getting ready for her first promotional tour as a solo artist, hot on the heals of the release of her debut solo album on Kirshner Records, entitled appropriately, "Sarah Dash". It's almost four years since we first sat down to do an interview — but, back then, it was as one third of Labelle.

The group had just recorded their debut album for Epic ("Nightbirds") and had triumphantly conquered the Metropolitan Opera House in New York with a show full of dazzle, glitter and soul. Back then, Sarah was probably the least conversational: she'd add her own point in but it was basically a dialogue with Patti and Nona Hendryx. Not that Sarah had nothing to say or that she couldn't say it: she tended to be a little more reserved and even withdrawn.

Four years later, Sarah's expressive, confident and ready. She's absorbed some of the knocks that inevitably came after Labelle broke up. The innuendos were that since both Patti and Nona had recorded albums within six months of the break-up (in 1977), maybe Sarah didn't have the same degree of talent. Maybe she was just another background singer…

Proving that everyone has their time and that sometimes, that wait can be worthwhile. Sarah's emerged with a dynamic debut set which has already established her as a vocal stylist who can easily hold her own against any of today's contemporary ladies.  Of course, having Don Kirshner (one of the record industry's true pioneers and leaders) to work with is an asset that has obviously in itself put Sarah into another category, since she's been able to benefit from the gentleman's expertise and ability. But that's not to take anything away from Sarah's own contribution: the lady displays versatility and talent on the album which has already won her a whole new lot of fans.

"During that time when I was waiting for that record deal situation to happen," Sarah states, "sure, I got impatient. It was frustrating even though the possibilities were there. It's like we did a demo with three songs with Ellie Greenwich (co-writer of many of the mid-sixties' classics alongside partner Jeff Barry) but I really wasn't ready to do them. In fact, I didn't want to because I didn't feel right about recording at that point. But we had to because the record company (Epic) wanted to hear me.  Well, I did them much against my own real intuition and it taught me a big lesson which Don (Kirshner) has since re-iterated to me: only do things you really feel.”

She continues, "The thing was, I didn't particularly want to be with Epic anyway — since Patti and Nona were already there and as it worked out, I wasn't! Because the guy at Epic passed when he heard the demo and told me to get into movies instead of records!" Which in retrospect is quite amusing when one considers Sarah's situation today! "I wasn't discouraged because I wanted to wait. Plus, I knew eventually the right situation would come."

In between times, Sarah worked a couple of times at New York's famous Reno Sweeney's nightclub where she drew rave reviews and filled houses. "That was a great experience but it wasn't getting me where I needed to be as far as recording was concerned."  Enter Don Kirshner "who had been friends with me for years. Apparently, he'd been keeping close tabs on what I was doing unbeknown to me. So when he called me at the beginning of the year to have dinner with him and his wife, I thought it was simply social. I had no idea what would happen but Don just asked me outright if we could work together. He showed me that he believed in me because when we talked he indicated that it was about a commitment to me as an artist and beyond that about my development. It was all about a plan — not just about doing a one-album deal. And that's what I needed."

Needless to say, Sarah decided that the creative marriage would be a positive step "although I didn't sleep for two weeks after that!" She says she knew that "it was the right thing to do — I trusted Don and his judgement. We started talking about producers, arrangers and almost immediately — before we'd signed any legl papers — material. And that helped me know that I was dealing with the right situation."

She notes that Don indicated "that I'd been doing it wrong anyway — playing Reno Sweeney's was fine but he pointed out that it was easy to get stuck just doing that forever. He even told me that even if I didn't sign with Kirshner Records, he'd help me anyway and he didn't want our friendship to suffer whatever happened. And it certainly hasn't!"

Mr. Kirshner immediately got his writing staff working on material for Ms. Dash and Sarah comments that throughout the project "a real family atmosphere prevailed. Sure, I wanted everything to be right but I didn't expect all the love and concern that was shown by everyone involved."  The lady spent between February and May "working with the writers, learning the songs, selecting with Don what we liked, what we wanted. In all, we ended up with seventeen songs out of which ten were chosen and I truly must say, I loved them all."

Having chosen Wally Gold as producer (a gentleman who's worked with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Tony Orlando and many others) and Leon Pendarvis ("who I'd known from working with him on the Labelle album, "Moonshadow" — who's just a genius!"), as arranger, the team proceeded into the studios in June in New York. The result is a strong first album.  "I think we covered a lot of ground," Sarah states whilst continuing to pack clothes for a trip that will take her across country promoting the album. "It shows a lot of textures and tones in my voice — I think I really benefitted from vocal lessons I did after the group broke up in 1977. And it was great working on the project — I learned so much about myself and what I can do."

Sarah has no particular favorites — "I truly love all the material" but is happy that she's covered a lot of different kinds of material on the album. " "Sinner Man" has the energy, it's got that whole disco appeal which has helped tremendously in getting response. By the way, that's Jerry Butler you hear at the front of the record, in case you wondered! And songs like "Candy From Your Baby" and "Do It For Love" have a light quality.  Then, 'I Can't Believe' has that whole gospel feel to it — in fact, you know, that's the original rough vocal I did when the rhythm was being recorded. Wally and Don wanted us to keep it and we did."

Already, Sarah is looking to the future to what the next steps in her blossoming career will be. "As soon as we finish the promotional tour, I guess it will be time to think about performing. But before we can do that, I want to make sure it's going to be done right. I've got a new manager now and we're already sitting down planning the way we want my career to develop. My whole attitude to life and to my career is simple: you've got to have faith in yourself and then put the picture in your mind as to what you actually want to achieve and then — stick with it!"



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