Vocalist; co-founder Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles
Born: August 18, 1945, in Trenton, New Jersey
Died: September 20, 2021
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2021: Performing Arts
Blessed with a four-and-a-half octave voice, Sarah Dash could take on any musical challenge. R&B, funk, disco, rock, rap—Dash wowed audiences in a variety of genres, whether performing as a headliner, group member or back-up singer.
Born to a pastor and a nurse, Dash, like many vocal greats, initially sang gospel music. Eager to perform secular songs, she formed her first group, the Del Capris, with a Trenton schoolmate, Nona Hendryx. The group—initially a quartet—added new vocalists, including Patti LaBelle (nee Patricia Holte), and tried new names. In time, they settled on Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles.
Dash was just 16 when the group was credited with its first single, “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.” The song reached No. 15 on Billboard’s pop singles chart in April 1962. Subsequent hits included “Down the Aisle (Wedding Song)” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” In 1964, the group (by then the trio of Dash, LaBelle and Hendryx) landed a spot as opening act on the Rolling Stones’ first American tour.
As the music scene changed, so did Dash and company. They moved to England for a period and then came roaring back with an edgier image, a funkier sound and a new name: Labelle. The formula worked and in January 1975 Labelle reached No. 1 on the pop chart with an instant classic, “Lady Marmalade.” Suddenly Labelle was everywhere, the three women performing in space-age suits and feathery head-dresses.
After that career peak, the members split up to pursue solo careers—although there would be later reunions. Dash’s self-titled debut solo album in 1978 included the disco hit “Sinner Man.” Three more albums followed, and Dash found herself much in demand as a back-up singer. She frequently recorded with her friend Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, as well as such varied artists as the Marshall Tucker Band, David Johansen, Alice Cooper, Laura Nyro and Nile Rodgers.
In recent decades, Dash toured in gospel productions and appeared onstage in musicals, including the self-penned “Dash of Diva,” which was presented at the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick.
Dash never forgot her roots in Trenton’s West Ward. She returned frequently to support local events, and in 2017 was named the city’s musical ambassador. In 2021, she appeared at the opening of a Covid-19 vaccine center in Trenton, arriving in a sequined mask to attract media attention to the inoculation effort. In recent decades, she also put significant focus on raising funds for at-need single mothers in New York City.
Upon her death, longtime friend Patti LaBelle said in a statement: “Sarah Dash 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. “