The world lost another great musician yesterday — New Jersey-born Sarah Dash. The highly respected R&B singer and cofounding member of Labelle passed away at 76 years old. Her publicist confirmed this sad news to Variety Magazine.
Trenton’s Mayor Reed Gusciora shared a beautiful message on Facebook honoring Dash, noting:
“Our resident legend and Trenton’s very first music ambassador, Sarah Dash, has passed away… Our motto, ‘Trenton Makes, the World Takes,’ was alive and well with Sarah. What Sarah made was beautiful music refined by a lifetime of experience and numerous contributions to the arts and the community. What the world takes is a timeless inspiration of a woman who touched the highest peaks of stardom and never forgot where she came from.”
Dash’s powerful vocals can be heard on albums by some of music’s biggest names, including The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, Laura Nyro, and Stevie Wonder. Her solo achievements include the 1978 Disco hit “Sinner Man” and the release of “Low Down Dirty Rhythm” in 1983.
Dash was a legendary local hero for me growing up in Trenton, one who inspired young singers to follow their dreams. It seemed like anytime Lady Marmalade came on the radio at a neighborhood block party or backyard cookout, there was never a shortage of someone in the crowd chiming in, “Y’all know that’s Sarah Dash and Nona Hyndryx singing with Patti on this song, right? They’re both from right here — right from Trenton!”
Yes, indeed, we were proud of our Trenton native daughters’ worldwide success. And they always served as a beacon of what is possible as I pursued my music career. With every grueling New York audition or record label meeting I attended, I always kept in mind, if Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx could make it out of Trenton and onto the world stage —I could too.
Additionally, my adoration for all the ladies of LaBelle was even more profound as they were always allies and advocates for their legions of gay fans. That, too, meant the world to me as a young gay man just coming out in Trenton, which was quite a closed-minded environment in many aspects.
Incidentally, I lived one house down from the Dash Family in my preteen years, and Sarah’s gorgeous nieces Dionne and Danielle were around my age. We were in the same group of neighborhood kids that played together on weekends and after school. They were the most fabulous young girls on the block — already fashion-forward, gravitating to a bold and daring style, unafraid of dramatic hair and make-up — just like their aunt, who was living the rock n’ roll dream.
Years later, when I landed a job at Lord & Taylor in our local mall, I befriended a lovely older woman who showed me the ropes of high-end retail. She was very kind, very into the church, and she seemed vaguely familiar for some reason. If I’m not mistaken, she also carried a bible with her on occasion on the sales floor and kept it near the register.
I was about 19 or 20 years old, and one day she asked me what my life plans were, and I explained I was going to become a recording artist and make it big! She replied, well, it’s possible; my sister did it; you may know of her. Her name is Sarah Dash. I laughed and replied, “I knew you looked familiar. I lived one house down from you when I was a kid!” It was a lovely moment.
Before Sarah Dash hit the big time, the church was prominent in her life as she was a pastor’s daughter. She grew up singing gospel music. Later, she moved to Philadelphia, where she met Patti LaBelle, Cindy Birdsong, and fellow Trenton native Nona Hendryx. They formed a quartet called Patti Labelle and The Bluebelles, but then, in a surprising turn, Birdsong left the group to join The Supremes.
Patti, Sarah, and Nona reformed as a wild, outer-space costumed trio named Labelle. They were a visual, skin-baring feast that would make even Barbarella blush. They recorded a string of popular disco hits, including their most significant success — the international smash “Lady Marmalade,” from their “Nightbirds” L.P., which told the story of a flirty prostitute selling her wares in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Throughout the years of pursuing their separate careers —with Patti becoming a Grammy-winning megastar, the three ladies remained friends. In the early 90s, Sarah brought two successful stage shows to life —”Dash of Diva” and “Sarah: One Woman.” Then in 1995, Labelle reunited to record the sassy dance track “Turn it out” that was featured on the soundtrack to the hit film “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.” The track was penned by the legendary music producer Shep Pettibone (Madonna ‘Vogue’ and a string of other hits) and his songwriting partner, Steve Feldman.
In 2003 Dash’s induction into the Grammy Hall Of Fame marked a celebration of her accomplishments and how far she had come from her days as a little girl from Trenton singing in her church choir. She reunited with Labelle a final time in 2008 for the album “Back To Now,” produced by some of today’s top musicians like Lenny Kravitz and Wyclef Jean and a few other musical A-Listers.
Always a proud Trentonian, Sarah Dash loved her hometown. Until the very end of her life, she passionately served as the Music Ambassador of Trenton, advocating for performing arts support in her city. As a fellow Trentonian and Disco baby who to this day has “Sinner Man” in my Apple playlist, I say R.I.P. to my local hometown girl who made us all so proud and showed us that dreams can come true if you believe, and go out there and turn it out!
Sarah really loved this 75th birthday tribute from Lady Bunny and shared it on her IG. It’s super fun and goes to show the adoration she received from her fans in the LGBTQ community! Enjoy!