She has sung with some of the greatest names in pop, rock and R&B – try The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, The Marshall Tucker Band, Laura Nyro, The O'Jays, Wilson Pickett and Bo Diddley among others. She has appeared on shows with hundreds of renowned recording artists – from Keith Richards to Stevie Wonder. She is, of course, a founding member of Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles, morphing into Labelle in the '70s (now reuniting in 2008 for a new album and tour) and has had her own hits with the dance music classics "Sinner Man" and "Low Down Dirty Rhythm." In more recent times, her 2007 appearance in San Francisco's 'Teatro Zinzanni' theatrical production drew rave reviews.
Even a cursory glance at Sarah Dash's career accomplishments reveals a woman steeped in music who has lived through everchanging trends and times in the world of entertainment and remains as vital and vibrant as ever. She is quite simply, a soul survivor.
The Sarah Dash story began in Trenton, New Jersey: by the age of seven, music was already an integral part of her life. "When I was in second grade, a teacher told me I could sing," she recalls. "I knew I had some kind of musical ability. I sang (the standard) "With These Hands" and did a little routine. I never heard the applause but apparently everyone loved it!"
While she confesses that her original goal as a youngster was "to be a housewife with a white picket fence with lots of children - and maybe join the circus," the power of music drew Sarah in. Exposed to a range of artists through her parents' record collection (which included The Dells, Mahalia Jackson, Nat King Cole and Andy Williams), influenced by one of her brothers laying jazz albums and another being in an R&B group of his own as well as singing in church herself, Sarah – like many other teens of her age – put together a vocal group of her in high school. After hearing another Trenton school girl singing one Sunday in church, she invited Nona Hendryx to join the newly-formed "Del Capris" ("we listened to The Dells and The Capris!"). Early repertoire included hits of the day like "Please Mr. Postman," "In The Still Of The Night" and "Why Do Fools Fall In Love."
The group's first gig earned them all of $10 ("we spent $50 on dresses!") and after some changes in personnel, Sarah and Nona teamed up with members of a local rival group, The Ordettes. "They had these glamorous low cut dresses…we wore little black pleated skirts," Sarah remembers. Initially known as The Bluebelles, Sarah, Nona, Patricia (Patti) Holte and Cynthia (Cindy) Birdsong began their 'official' recording career as Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles in 1962 but not before Sarah's father, an ordained minister, voiced his objections: "It wasn't easy persuading him but my mother and sister stood up to him," she says. "They knew it was the right thing for me…"
With hits like "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman" and versions of classic tunes like "Danny Boy" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," the group became instant favorites with audiences at venues like The Apollo, The Regal in Chicago and The Uptown in Philadelphia: "The people loved us because no other black female groups were doing those kind of songs. They liked the way we moved onstage and our harmonies," Sarah adds. "We even had one show where James Brown didn't want to follow us!"
After a spell with Cameo Parkway Records, the group went to Atlantic in 1964, working with executive Jerry Wexler. Their first LP yielded the unforgettable, showstopping version of "Over The Rainbow" along with the group's original version of "Groovy Kind Of Love" (a hit for Phil Collins in the '80s) and the soulful "All Or Nothing." A second Atlantic LP, "Dreamer" yielded some chart success for the quartet with "Take Me For A Little While" but it was obvious the group (now a trio with the departure of Cindy Birdsong) were ready for a change.
Enter British television producer Vicki Wickham who had seen and heard the group in New York and during a brief visit to London. Wickham's vision for a brand new image for the trio emerged after a year of woodshedding in the U.K.: "We revamped and reworked our music," Sarah recalls. "We tried different styles, with each of us doing lead vocals. I felt really great about it. I found peace and stability in music, that it was something I was always supposed to do."
From 1971 until 1977, Sarah, Nona and Patti created a whole niche for themselves as the futuristic trio Labelle, complete with space suits, feathers, gold and silver costumes, stage entrances from the ceiling, performances at The Metropolitan Opera House and a catalog of six outstanding albums. Creating a diverse audience that included gay, straight, black, Latin and white constituents, Labelle's breakthrough into commercial mainstream acceptance came after two albums for Warner Brothers and one for RCA with their signing to Epic Records. 1974's "Nightbirds" yielded the massive hit and now classic "Lady Marmalade." Notes Sarah, "We were doing things so differently, making a mark and no one attempted to do what we did. We were recording rock songs (like Van Morrison's "Wild Horses"), opening for The Who, making an album with Laura Nyro (1971's "Gonna Take A Miracle") and doing songs like Nina Simone's "Four Women" onstage. We were innovators."
With "Lady Marmalade," Labelle's career took off: after two more albums (the critically-acclaimed "Phoenix" and "Chameleon" sets), the trio decided to go their separate ways. "It was a turning point, I was at a crossroads and looking at another big change in my life," Sarah reflects. Initially thinking of a career in film and theater, Sarah was featured on the PBS series, "Watch Your Mouth." The lure of music proved too strong: in 1977, she signed with Kirshner Records. The resultant self-titled debut LP gave Sarah her first solo hit with the club classic "Sinner Man" which achieved Top 10 status on the dance music charts in 1978. Two more solo albums – "Close Enough" and a 1988 set for EMI (which included Sarah's memorable version of the Gaye-Terrell tune, "You're All I Need To Get By") and another dance hit for Megatone Records in the form of "Low Down Dirty Rhythm" followed.
In 1988, Sarah was invited by Keith Richards to tour with him: her association with him led to another world tour, a tour with Richards' X-pensive Winos, appearances on two of his albums ("Live At The Hollywood Palladium" and "Main Offender") and on The Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels" album in 1989. In the early '90s, Sarah developed her own one-woman show, "Dash Of Diva," performing at different club venues, as well as doing a more jazz-flavored set that resulted in various appearances. In 1995, she reunited with Patti Labelle and Nona Hendryx to record the track "Turn It Out" for the movie soundtrack, "To Woo Fong: Thanks For Everything" garnering a No. 1 dance music hit in the process.
Offstage, Sarah began working tirelessly for organizations dedicated to assisting homeless mothers while starting a series of engagements that have resulted in her constant work as a powerful motivational speaker, something she has found enormously rewarding and satisfying.
An accident after a gig with Stevie Wonder in Washington DC temporarily halted Sarah's career: "It took almost five years for me to fully recover," she says. "During that time, I continued to speak at juvenile homes and churches, encouraging and empowering our youth. I also started singing gospel, I began working on my first gospel CD and my first book." Ever active, Sarah also began managing properties owned by her father, restoring her original childhood home and developing a 'Sarah Dash School Of Music And Arts,' aimed "at both children and seniors."
In 2007 came an invitation to appear in the famed "Teatro Zinzanni" playing the role of 'Duchess of Del Capri,' exposing Sarah to a whole new world, that of the circus! "That was my whole life for about a year but it gave me another area of creativity of work with and opened me up as a performer. That was one of the best summers I'd had in long time," Sarah says.
Then, following a recording session with Lenny Kravitz to record a tribute to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks (entitled "Dear Rosa"), Sarah, Nona and Patti began exploring the possibilities of a Labelle reunion. That's now a reality, the trio cutting tracks with Kravitz and the legendary team of Gamble & Huff among others.
For Sarah Dash, it's full circle: "It's as if we never left one another," she concludes. "The spirit is the same – we've just added all the experiences we've had individually over these last few decades. When I hear our voices together, I hear what was always good to me before…" Soul survivor, humanitarian, motivational speaker, actress and forever musical, Sarah Dash feels like "this is a new time in my life. My love for God has sustained me through everything and now I'm living in a world of opportunity and possibility…and it feels good."