Labelle’s Sarah Dash goes solo in new show

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 11, 2011

Trenton-born Sarah Dash first found success when she moved to Philadelphia in the late '50s and teamed up with Nona Hendryx, Patricia Holte and Sundray Tucker to form the Ordettes. In 1961, Tucker was replaced by Cindy Birdsong and the group became the Bluebelles and, after Holte changed her name to Patti LaBelle, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.

The group hit the charts in 1962 with the Billboard top twenty hit "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" in 1962 and then a couple of lesser hits in the next two years.

In 1971, the group, now a trio (Birdsong had joined the Supremes) and renamed simply LaBelle, sang back-up harmonies on singer-songwriter Laura Nyro's "Gonna Take a Miracle" album, Nyro's only recording of cover material. The album has become a cult classic.

Despite other recordings over the years and opening for big-name acts such as The Who, LaBelle did not rebound big-time until 1975 with one of the biggest hits of the disco era, "Lady Marmalade," from the platinum-selling "Nightbirds" LP.

After some disagreement over material, the group disbanded in 1977. Dash went on to a solo career with her self-titled album in 1978, which included the dance hit "Sinner Man."

When the disco era came to a close in the early '80s, Dash-like many singers of the era-was left searching for a direction. She became a busy session worker, singing with acts as diverse as The O'Jays, Nile Rodgers, and the Marshall Tucker Band. Most notably, she reunited and toured with her friend Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and memorably added her powerful vocals to the Stones' "Steel Wheels" album.

In recent years, although Dash has dealt with setbacks such as a serious injury that sidelined her for a while, she has continued to guest-record and reunited with LaBelle to record and release "Back to Now," which landed in the upper rungs of the Billboard album chart in 2008. Recently, Dash-the daughter of a Pentecostal minister-recorded her first CD of inspirational music, "The Seventh Child." The first single, "I'm Still Here," drops this month.

On October 13th (and November 17th), Dash brings her show, "Sarah Dash: One Woman" to midtown's Laurie Beechman Theatre. EDGE recently spoke with Sarah Dash about her career and new show.

Looking back

EDGE: What kind of material can we expect at your show? Will it be autobiographical?

Sarah Dash: It will be autobiographical but not quite chronological. I'll talk about the songs and where I was when they were recorded. There will be new material from my recent inspirational CD. I'll do "Time is on My Side," which I recorded with Keith Richards-it is on his "Vintage Vinos" that he recently released. Some jazz, some blues, some Laura Nyro, and, of course, a Labelle medley.

And I'll sing "You'll Never Walk Alone," which became kind of a signature song for me when I performed it at AIDS Walk New York in 2009. I want people to know we're still fighting the cause!

EDGE: It's incredible how many people you have worked with. Will you be telling stories as well?

Sarah Dash: Oh yes. I'll be sharing a Keith Richards story, a Laura Nyro story, and Labelle stories. You know, funny stories like where the space clothes came from. And it will be my story and how a woman evolves to a certain place in her life.

Her gay following

EDGE: Labelle's comeback album in 2008, "Back to Now," seemed to be a success. Are there plans to record again?

Sarah Dash: At the moment, there are no plans for a future recording. Much to my surprise, it didn't happen the way I hoped it would and I think the Patti and Nona would agree with me. But my team says "Never say never!"

EDGE: Are you surprised by how large your gay following still is after all these years?

Sarah Dash: No, I'm not surprised. It's wonderful to know that we were innovators, one of the first acts to welcome them into our audience. They bring us gifts, send us poems. We bridged the gap between gays and straights. Half our audience would go off to the Garage-Gay-rage-and straight couples would tell us, "I never knew we could have so much fun with the gays." It's normal to me. When I look at people, I see people. But what concerns me is the bullying and how those kids grow into adulthood without killing themselves. I just recorded "Sparkle" with Ari Gold and it's about encouraging these kids to shine.

Career goes full circle

EDGE: I like the story of how your father, a minister, objected to your career early on, but now you've recorded a gospel album ("The Seventh Child"). Life has come full circle.

Sarah Dash: I call the album inspirational. It's a variety of inspirational music: traditional gospel like "His Eye is on the Sparrow," the first song I ever learned, as well as house gospel for people who want to dance! There are also a few songs I wrote, including "I'm Still Here," the first single, which drops next week. We can't judge. There's something for everyone to enjoy.

EDGE: Do you still live in Philadelphia?

I live in New Jersey. I've restored the home I grew up in, a little five-bedroom house. Now, if I could just find a good housekeeper!

EDGE: You started an autobiography a while back. Are you still working on that?

Sarah Dash: Yes I am. There are boxes of journals upstairs. And then there's the Archive Room. [Laughs] No one is allowed in that room without my permission and without my being there! We just found the original LaBelle press kit from 1976, in mint condition!

EDGE: Wow! I wouldn't be letting anyone in that room either. I can't wait to see your show on October 13th.

Sarah Dash: Tell my gay audience, my straight audience, my black audience, my red, yellow and green audience: Voulez-vous danser avec moi? You can definitely get your yaya gaga on at this show!

Sarah Dash appears at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, downstairs at the West Bank Cafť (42nd Street and Ninth Avenue) on October 13 and November 17. Visit for details and to make reservations.

Watch Sarah Dash performing at the 2009 AIDS Walk:

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).