Sarah Dash (Courtesy photo)
Sarah Dash (Courtesy photo)

Sarah Dash, part of the powerful R&B trio Labelle and a contributor to the solo work of Keith Richards, died Sept. 20 at the age of 76.

Her cousin and business manager John Dash III, said she died at her Trenton, New Jersey home but did not share the cause of her death.

Dash, a founding member of Labelle, appeared on the group’s 1975 dance floor classic “Lady Marmalade” along with Patti LaBelle and Nona Hendryx. Dash also contributed her vocals on recordings released by an earlier version of the group, the Bluebelles (1962’s “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman”).

While she would often be relegated to a supporting role, overshadowed by both Patti LaBelle’s vocal power and stage presence and Nona Hendryx’s “rock-centric edge,” Dash evoked a sugary sweet sound similar to that of Diana Rose which added a touch of sensuality to the trio’s sound.

“She had the most beautiful high soprano voice you’d ever want to hear,” LaBelle told a reporter from Rolling Stone. “And she was a phenomenally sexy, beautiful woman who had class and elegance. She was a lead singer but preferred singing background.”

Born and raised in Trenton and a “PK” (preacher’s kid), she first sang in church where her father served as pastor. Later, she began to sing more secular music, particularly pop with Hendryx, one of her friends in high school.

After Dash moved to Philadelphia, she and Hendryx teamed up with LaBelle (then Patricia Holte) and Cindy Birdsong (who would later become a Supreme) to form the Bluebelles. As the renamed Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, they made it into the top 40 twice with “Down the Aisle” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The group also opened several shows for the Rolling Stones during 1965.

LaBelle describes Dash as “the person who kept everything together.”

“She was always the peacemaker,” LaBelle said referring to a backstage brouhaha that involved Birdsong and which Dash quickly squashed saying, “We are sisters.”

After Birdsong left to join the Supremes, where she replaced Florence Ballard, the group, now known as Labelle, went from one label to another. Then “Lady Marmalade” grabbed control of the airwaves, rising to Number One in 1975.

The song, about a prostitute, became part of everyday language with its hook, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” (“Do you want to sleep with me tonight?”). Finally, Labelle had arrived.

The group assumed a groundbreaking culture presence and as the early seventies rolled on, Labelle adapted a glamorous, glitzy look, bringing more socially conscious songs into their repertoire.

Labelle served as the first Black female pop group to headline the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, taking chances and going places where few all-women bands did at the time.

When the group broke up in 1977, Dash initially found herself lost and unsure of how to move on.

“What we had was working and I was happy with what we had,” she once said.

LaBelle and Hendrix each landed solo deals with Epic but Dash found herself out in the cold, at least at first. She later signed with Don  Kirshner’s label and released several solo albums starting in 1979, primarily comprised of ballad and disco tunes.

She made it on the dance charts a few times, most notably in 1979 with “Sinner Man” but never managed to get her career off the ground.

In the late Eighties, Dash had a career resurgence with a new album and her collaborations with Keith Richards. Then, starting in the ’90s, she turned to singing more jazz and blues.

Dash’s last performance came on Sept. 18 when she joined LaBelle onstage in Atlantic City for an impromptu reunion.

“She was healthy and fine and sang her face off,” LaBelle said. “The crowd went crazy. She had the best send-off. If that’s the way you’re going to leave, she left like a queen.”

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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