Karen Fratti
Updated Mar 12, 2017 @ 11:39 am
joni sledge
Credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

We are very sad to report that one of the founding members of Sister Sledge, Joni Sledge, was found dead in her Phoenix, Arizona home on Friday at the age of 60. The singer wasn’t sick and the cause of her death is still unknown.

Originally from Philadelphia, Joni started Sister Sledge, the R&B group best known for “We Are Family,” with her three sisters, Debbie, Kim, and Kathy, in 1971.

Sledge’s family issued a statement on about her death, saying, “Yesterday, numbness fell upon our family. We are saddened to inform you that our dear sister, mother, aunt, niece, and cousin, Joni, passed away yesterday. Please pray for us as we weep for this loss. We do know that she is now eternally with Our Lord.”

The band added,

“We thank you in advance for allowing us the privacy to mourn quietly as a family. We miss her and hurt for her presence, her radiance, and the sincerity with which she loved and embraced life.”

The R&B group was legendary. In addition to the 1979 track “We Are Family,” which became a feminist anthem, you might have also unwittingly held a dance party to their other hits, such as a cover of “My Guy” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” which was sampled by Will Smith in “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”

On Twitter, fans and fellow artists paid tribute to the performer.

The R&B and disco foursome touched many lives throughout the 1970s and ’80s, and although sister Kathy left the group for a solo career in 1989, Sister Sledge performed for Pope Francis in 2015 (without Kathy) and has been recording new music.

Sister Sledge wasn’t just any girl group — together they epitomized female tenacity and empowerment. Sure, they sang “I got all my sisters with me,” but they also struggled to become famous and stuck with their passions, even when things got hard. As anyone who has sisters knows, that’s not always the easiest thing to do (even when you love them to pieces).

Joni told The Guardian last year that the sisters had their doubts about their chances of success early on. “The four of us had been in the music business for eight years and we were frustrated. We were saying: ‘Well, maybe we should go to college and just become lawyers or something other than music, because it really is tough,'” she said.

Still, they didn’t let their studio turn them into something they weren’t. Joni added:

Like fans everywhere, we’re sad that Joni is gone, but we know we’ll always be inspired by Sister Sledge’s music and never-give-up attitude.