Sarah Dash, member of R&B trio Labelle who had a US No 1 hit with Lady Marmalade, has died aged 76.
No cause of death has been given, though she had reportedly told family she was feeling unwell in recent days.
Patti Labelle, who co-founded the group with Dash, Nona Hendryx and Cindy Birdsong, said she was “heartbroken” and called Dash “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. I could always count on her to have my back.” Dash and Labelle had performed together last weekend, with Dash posting footage to her Instagram account.
Reed Gusciora, mayor of Dash’s native Trenton, New Jersey, called her “a superstar in her own right”.
Dash was born in Trenton in 1945, the daughter of a pastor and nurse, and moved to Philadelphia as a young woman. She joined a vocal group whose lineup settled around Dash, Labelle, Hendryx and Birdsong, naming themselves the Bluebelles, later Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. Their 1962 debut single, I Sold My Heart to the Junkman, shot into the US Top 20. It was followed by acclaimed tracks such as Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song) and doo-wop covers of standards including You’ll Never Walk Alone, Danny Boy and Over the Rainbow.
Birdsong left in 1967 and joined the Supremes, with the remaining trio naming themselves Labelle. With Dash celebrated for her emotive, versatile voice that spanned soprano prettiness and robustly soulful singing, the group branched out, backing Laura Nyro, and covering the Who and touring with them.
Major mainstream success evaded them until 1974 album Nightbirds, when its lead single Lady Marmalade, a raunchy tale of a New Orleans sex worker lighting up a client’s dull life, topped the US charts. Later, in the UK, cover versions by All Saints (1998), and by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and Pink for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack (2001), both reached No 1.
Labelle released two further albums before going on a long hiatus, fully reforming in 2008 for the album Back to Now. In the interim, Dash released four solo albums, and worked as a session singer for Nile Rodgers, the O’Jays and others. She joined Keith Richards’ backing band the X-pensive Winos, and recorded vocals for the Rolling Stones’ album Steel Wheels.
Later in life she recorded gospel music, worked as a motivational speaker, and did charity work. Earlier this year, she was hired as an advocate for the Covid vaccine in New Jersey.