Black History Month Series

Saluting Songbird, Sarah Dash

Singer Sarah Dash began to gain notoriety in 1962 when she joined fellow Trentonian Nona Hendryx, Cindy Birdsong (who would later join Diana Ross & the Supremes), and Patricia Holte (nee Patti LaBelle), to form the Bluebelles. Dash began touring as a teenager and had a tutor while she was on the road during the formation of her first group the Del-Capris. In the 60s the Bluebellees racked up a strings of doo-wop hits, such as “Over the Rainbow,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Down the Aisle" (The Wedding Song). But it was in 1974 when Dash and her bandmates made the transition to the funk rock sound on the gold-selling “Nightbirds,” where they scored their number one hit, “Lady Marmalade,” which helped to solidify their musical legacy. The group would follow up with two other albums on Epic records Phoenix (1975), and Chameleon (1976). LaBelle became the first Black singing group to grace the cover of RollingStone magazine and to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House. LaBelle was ahead of their time paving the way for many Black artists to venture into glam rock fashion and afrofuturism.

After LaBelle disbanded in 1976, Dash embarked on a solo career, releasing her self-titled debut album, which included the top-10 disco hit, "Sinner Man." She acted in and wrote the theme song to Watch Your Mouth! (1978), a PBS series produced by that also starred Scandal actor Joe Morton. She released three albums on the CBS-distributed Kirshner Records, Sarah Dash (1978), Oo-La-La (1980), and Close Enough (1981). Throughout the '80s and '90s, she recorded a string of club singles, including "Low Down Dirty Rhythm," plus her fourth solo effort You're All I Need (1988) on EMI-Manhattan Records. Sarah would eventually go on to co-produce her independent gospel album The Seventh Child which was released in 2011.

Dubbed the "Silver Throat" by Patti LaBelle, Dash would also become a successful session singer for the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards, and release her autobiography, Dash of Diva. In between producing her one-woman stage shows, Dash of Diva and Sarah: One Woman, Dash proved that her business savvy helped to play a part of her longevity in the entertainment business. Dash along with LaBelle and Hendryx, were inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in October 2017. In 2018 the capital city native was named Trenton’s first Ambassador of Music by former Mayor Eric Jackson. The two year position was created to advocate for the expansion of musical performing arts and related cultural activities and to promote a better understanding of how music can impact and improve the lives of Trentonians. Throughout her life, Dash lived in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and New York’s Upper West Side, but has always kept Trenton close to heart. “With the magnitude of success that I’ve had, coming back to Trenton leads people to assume I’m starving, or that I’m a failure, but I came back here—I didn’t know what the reason was at first. Now I’m here most of the time,” she told Community News in a 2018 interview.

Just because we love this photo of Dash with Bob Marley

Born on August 18, 1945 in Trenton, New Jersey to Abraham and Mary Elizabeth Dash, Sarah was the seventh of 13 children. Sarah’s father was a Pentecostal pastor and her mother a nurse. She grew up singing in the Trenton Church of Christ choir. Dash comes from a rich legacy in the entertainment industry. Her cousins are Damon Dash, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, Clueless actress Stacy Dash, and the critically-acclaimed filmmaker Julie Dash, who wrote and directed Daughters of the Dust, the first feature film to be distributed theatrically in the United States by an African-American woman.

When the Trenton Journal reached out to Dash in August to schedule an interview she insisted on being interviewed at Sprout U School of the Arts, a school located in Trenton that offers an experimental curriculum that engages children from infancy to grades 12, where she served as a head board member and vocal instructor. Sprout U School of the Arts is run by Danielle Miller-Winrow, Dash’s niece. During the brief conversation to workout the details for the interview, Dash spoke with immense pride of her hometown and how amazed she was at the talent of the Sprout U students. She warned that even though she loved her city she was not going to bite her tongue when she sat down for an official interview.

Courtesy of Sarah Dash's Instagram page

A couple of weeks before the interview, Dash passed away suddenly on September 20th after telling friends and family members that she wasn’t feeling well. She was 76 years old. After her passing Dash was inducted to the New Jersey Hall of Fame for her career in the performing arts. Two days before her death, Patti LaBelle called Dash up to the stage to sing with her at a concert in Atlantic City. Upon hearing the news of Dash’s passing, LaBelle wrote on social media honoring her friend:

“We were just on-stage together on Saturday and it was such a powerful and special moment! #SarahDash was an awesomely talented, beautiful, and loving soul who blessed my life and the lives of so many others in more ways than I can say. And I could always count on her to have my back! That’s who Sarah was…a loyal friend and a voice for those who didn’t have one.” Ms. Dash was a class act who used her voice in many ways to give back to the world. She could have lived anywhere in the world she wanted, but she chose to spend the remainder of her life in her family's West Trenton home. After selling gold records and touring around the world, Sarah Dash proved you don't have to leave home when you achieve success. Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who was also a friend of Dash’s said, “She was a superstar in her own right…she could have gone anywhere after her fame and success and she chose to come back to her roots in Trenton.” Sarah Dash’s legacy will live on through her family, music, and the many lives she touched in the capital city for years to come. We salute you!

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