At the age of 67, Debbie Sledge, the eldest sibling in Sister Sledge — the iconic girl group that shot to fame in the late ’70s with disco classics like “We Are Family” and “Lost in Music” — is the first to admit she’s “no spring chicken.”
After reinventing herself as the face of the group Sister Sledge featuring Slegendary — which includes Sledge, two of her adult children, their cousin, plus a friend — the grandmother of 13 struggles to keep up with the digital skills of the younger members.
“There’s always smiling and joking going on and sometimes they catch impromptu videos of us all,” she told The Post. “Then, before I know it, they’re all over the place [on social media].
“They’re quick with that, but I’m slow at tech-y things.”
Still, Debbie reckons she only needs to extend a little more effort to match the “high energy levels” of the second-generation entertainers.
“I’m beginning to work out and build my strength,” she said. “The tours are very strenuous.”
The group has performed with a rotating lineup over the last few years, but the current ensemble, which came together this year, is new. It’s also the first to record fresh material, with a debut track to be released in February.
“I’m excited,” said Debbie of her collaboration with son David, daughter Camille, nephew Thaddeus — the only child of her late sister Joni — and singer/songwriter Miss Tanya Ti-et, the “adopted” member of the family.
Camille became a Sledge vocalist back in 2003, while David, a former mental health worker, switched careers in 2018. They live in Phoenix, Ariz., near their mom and stepfather, Jeroen deBruine, and a small army of relatives.
“There are a few of us,” Debbie said. The mother-of-six used to share her home with Joni, who died unexpectedly in March 2017, at age 60.
“She was going through a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t know,” said Debbie. Disclosing that Joni had “health issues,” she continued, “She was so strong that she didn’t even let me know the extent of what she was going through.”
She broke the news to their other sisters, Carol, Kathy and Kim, all based on the East Coast.
The five daughters of Broadway tap dancer Edwin Sledge and Florez Sledge, an actress, routinely sang in the family church in Philadelphia, Penn.
They launched Sister Sledge in 1971, with Florez as their manager. Debbie laughed as she looked back on the matriarch driving them to gigs in a van. “We were actually the Black Partridge Family, I guess,” she said.
The girls made it big in 1974 with the single “Love Don’t Go Through No Changes On Me” That year, they also flew to Africa to sing at the fabled “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.
“We got on this private jet with all these legendary artists like James Brown and The Spinners,” said Debbie. “There was a little bit of protest because JB had too much luggage. The other groups didn’t want to get on the plane if it was going to be dangerous. They said: ‘Take some of that luggage off!’”
Sister Sledge performed in front of 60,000 people at the stadium in Kinshasa before the big event. “There was such electricity,” Debbie said. She described how 18-year-old Joni tried to teach Brown how to take the microphone and greet the French-speaking crowd with an enthusiastic “bon soir.”
“He’d pronounce it wrong and his yes men would say, ‘Yeah, that was it!’” recalled Debbie. “And Joni would say: ‘No it’s not.’”
Finally, Joni told him: “‘Say ‘neck bone’ and now drop the ‘neck’ part. Good! You got it!’”
Five years later, Sister Sledge brought down the house with “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1979 World Series. Their chart-topper “We Are Family” had become the official anthem of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who went on to win the championship. “It was one of the beautiful things that have happened in my life,” Debbie said.
But only half of the original band performed for Pope Francis II when he visited Philly in 2015. According to Debbie, she missed the opportunity because their manager had double-booked the group by mistake. “We were due to sing in Armenia so I went on my own.” Meanwhile, youngest sibling Kathy failed to appear due to “a familial dispute” that, according to a press release, “had been developing between the sisters.”
Indeed, the feud had been simmering since 1989 when Kathy branched out with a solo album.
Lawsuits were filed which restricted Kathy’s singing under the name Sister Sledge. “There might have been some conflict,” Debbie admitted, but Joni’s death brought them back together. “I had a talk with my sisters and said, ‘Let’s come together with our kids.’”
Among the happier moment the siblings shared was the renewal of vows by Debbie and deBruine for the couple’s wedding anniversary in 2013. The two met at a Sister Sledge concert in deBruine native Holland after was plucked from the audience to strut his stuff on stage. It’s customary for the sisters to get a random fan to bust a move as they belt out their 1979 track “He’s The Greatest Dancer.”
“Kim [originally] chose him because she thought he had a kind face,” Sledge said. “He was a great dancer and very confident.” The following day, the Dutch drama coach sent Debbie a bouquet of flowers. They tied the knot in the mid-’90s.
“He’s amazing with the kids and grandkids,” Sledge gushed about her second husband. “Family is so important to me, just as it’s always been.”