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Sly & The Family Stone
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One of the seminal funk bands of its generation, Sly & The Family Stone has found popularity among young modern day hip-hoppers via samples on albums by Janet Jackson, The Beastie Boys, Kid Rock, Fatboy Slim, Ice Cube and Public Enemy. The group's legacy in both the rock and R&B worlds was confirmed first by its induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and ten years later receiving the R&B Foundation Pioneer Award.

Native Texan Sylvester Stewart recorded his first song as a gospel singer at age 4 with his nuclear family group, "The Stewart Four." By high school, in Vallejo, California, he'd taken on the nickname Sly and played rock 'n' roll with Joey Piazza and the Continentals. His knowledge of music and his charming personality led to DJ positions at R&B stations KDIA and KSOL, where his shows were popular enough to land him a job as a producer for Autumn Records.

Sly's credits at Autumn included several early San Francisco Sound tracks: the Beau Brummels' "Laugh, Laugh" and "Just A Little" and "Somebody to Love" as performed by the Great Society, then featuring lead singer Grace Slick. The song became a hit for the Jefferson Airplane a few years later.

After a couple of false starts, Sly recruited trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, sax-player Jerry Martini, pianist Rosie Stone, guitarist Freddie Stone, drummer Greg Errico and, most importantly, bassist Larry Graham, to form his new band. Not only did they sound different, they looked it too, as the only band of the era to include blacks and whites, males and females. Perhaps even more radical was the crucial role women played as instrumentalists.

After paying its dues in the suburbs, the band released their first album, A Whole New Thing, in 1967. Its 1968 single "Dance to the Music" was Sly & The Family Stone's first Top Ten hit. The message of their next single made it #1 for a month. The catchphrase from "Everyday People" - 'different strokes for different folks', was a popular saying throughout the late sixties. A third classic single, "Hot Fun in the Summertime," reached #2.

In 1969, the band released their breakthrough album Stand, and spent the year touring, including a historic performance at Woodstock. Under pressure and internal group friction, Sly began to exhibit signs of a bleeding ulcer and sought relief through drugs. After developing a reputation for missed and delayed concerts, a comeback with another number one hit, "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)" in 1970 seemed to indicate a return to form.

The band's 1971 album There's a Riot Goin On featured the hit single "Family Affair." Larry Graham quit the group in 1972 to form Graham Central Station, and in 1980, he hit the charts again with a beautiful ballad called "One In A Million You."

Stone released two more records, Fresh (1973) and Small Talk (1974), with mostly different line-ups. After that, the quality of his output diminished in direct relation to his increasing drug addiction and egomania. Singer Bobby Womack felt it necessary to help Sly into drug treatment, afterwards honoring his mentor by taking him on tour.

In 1997, Larry Graham reunited with original Sly & the Family Stone members Rose Stone, Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson to perform a Sly & the Family Stone medley, at Sinbad's Soul Music Festival in Aruba. The performance, was shown on HBO later that year. In 2003, The Family Stone - minus Stone and Graham, but featuring Stone's siblings Freddie and Rosie - reunited to record a new album.

© 2004