Entertainment » Music

Sarah Dash :: A Dash of Diva

by BeBe Sweetbriar
Saturday Feb 26, 2011

It only takes a quick read of the vast career of Sarah Dash to discover that she is a true survivor.

In a business where the flow of popularity comes and goes like the oceans tide, Ms. Dash has morphed her career to span decades, musical genres, and artistic expression. Not only being a founding member of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, which later became LaBelle in the 70s (one of music's most successful girl groups), Dash has worked with a variety of musical greats that reads like an encyclopedia of musicians and singers. She has worked with the Rolling Stones, The Who, Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, The O'Jays, Alice Cooper, The Marshall Tucker Band, Laura Nyro, Wilson Pickett, CeCe Peniston, and Sir Ari Gold. Not limiting herself to recordings, Sarah has graced the stage of theatrics in various touring gospel productions, and received rave reviews of her performance in her appearance in 2007's production at San Francisco's Teatro Zinzanni.

And over her almost 50 year career, she has found the time to give back to the community, especially to the children, spreading her wisdom of life and her love for developing the future. As she prepared for a visit to San Francisco to participate in The Rrazz Room's 3rd Anniversary Gala benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on March 17, I experienced a wonderful chat with Ms. Dash covering the then, the now, and what's to come.


The early years

BeBe: Miss Sarah Dash. Well, you have never been out of the limelight. You’ve just have things going on left and right. And I am sure that is on purpose.

Sarah: Why thank you!

BeBe: There so much to your career, I’m not sure where to start, but I guess at the beginning. Now, you are New Jersey born correct?

Sarah: That’s correct.

BeBe: What’s in the water there in New Jersey where it has put out so many megastars? You’ve got Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, Queen Latifah, and Jay-Z. What is it?

Sarah: And Kool and the Gang, also. There’s a lot of talent. Of course the leading talent would be Frank Sinatra. But there was little knowledge of that in my mind when I started. I later found these things out.

BeBe: Now you moved to Philadelphia when you were quite young in your teens?

Sarah: Yes, we (family) were based out of Philadelphia for awhile.

BeBe: And that’s where you met Nona Hendryx and Patti LaBelle and the story of the Bluebelles, and later LaBelle, begins.

Sarah: Correct.

BeBe: As the story goes, you were considered the calm between the two extremes with Patti and Nona is that correct?

Sarah: That’s what they said (laughing).

BeBe: Now wait a minute. Back up now, Sarah. You said that’s what THEY said.

Sarah: Well, I was more calm than Nona and Patti. My demeanor on stage was a lot more calm.


The Labelle experience

BeBe: In the 70’s when you made the transition in style and changed the group name to Labelle, you really made more of a stir in Europe than in the States initially.

Sarah: Well, we went to London to regroup with the management team that we had at that time which was Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, along with Vicki Wickham, who managed The Who.

BeBe: And it was a big change then because you all went from the Doo-Wop girls to doing songs of social consciousness, self awareness, and sex. How was that adjustment for you?

Sarah: Well, I’m a preacher of change and I enjoyed it. I think it’s part of my survival tactic, or part of who I am. I enjoy doing new things and having new experiences in music. I can honestly say because of our change from Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, it created that in me. And as a person too, I’ve always enjoyed doing different things. Even when I was in the industry I went to acting school, I studied opera, I took some courses in film, and studied computer science for a minute. And did those things when we had a break. There’s always different interests in my life, and that’s part of change that I love because I like to find out about different things.

BeBe: Trying to be apart of life instead of just living life.

Sarah: Yes. You know I was reading a book not too long ago, and the question was does what you do define you as a person? And if you have more than one talent or interest in other things, it’s always good to tap into them to learn. So the change from the Bluebelles to LaBelle wasn’t hard on me. It was harder for Patti believe it or not. She didn’t want to leave the Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles syndrome. But it didn’t hurt her, did it (laughing)!

BeBe: No it didn’t. Miss LaBelle has done quite well. But success is measured in so many different ways. And looking back on some of the things you’ve done after LaBelle had disbanded and you went onto your solo career, there was much accomplished for you. You initially went into the disco realm for a little bit.

Sarah: Yes. And was quite successful.

BeBe: I was listening to your hit "Sinner Man" recently, and I was saying, girl, you got some pipes on you.

Sarah: (Laughing) Yes. I was blessed with that. It’s a God-given talent.

BeBe: With Patti and Nona doing most of the lead vocals before, I think people were amazed with your vocals when "Sinner Man" came out.

Sarah: I was too (laughing). A lot of people were amazed. And that song did a lot for me as an artist.


Remembering Sylvester

BeBe: Unfortunately, it came at a time in the late 70’s when disco was on its way out, but you managed to do a lot in that period.

Sarah: Yes, I was able to do a lot in that area of performing. I did a lot of disco gigs. At the time, they had a lot of clubs. It was wonderful. And I got a chance to work with Sylvester.

BeBe: Okay! We can’t forget the man Sylvester.

Sarah: Oh, no. He did it!

BeBe: And I know you never let go of your gospel roots since you have been involved in gospel tours and shows.

Sarah: In fact I just finished one in Arizona. I did "Sisters of Glory" with CeCe Peniston and a few other people.... Phoebe Snow and Dorothy Norwood. It was really cool. I got the opportunity because Thelma Houston did the original work, but she couldn’t tour, so they called me to step in which I thought was a huge honor. And in fact, I have an inspirational CD that has been reissued and was supposed to be out the second week in February, but was delayed because I lost two of my brothers within 5 days of one another and we had a double funeral. But they were such a fan of my work, had to continue on. The producer of the show did not give the role to anyone. They waited until I could come back to continue rehearsals. And I know they (my brothers) were with me because all my lines were remembered and delivered. You sometimes you can take a loss and have it be an inspiring point in your life although they are not there to see it. Their spirit, such as it was when they were alive for me, carried me straight through.

BeBe: What’s the title of your inspirational piece of work?

Sarah: It’s called "The Seventh Child". I’m the seventh child of thirteen.

BeBe: Good Lord! My father is one of thirteen. Lucky 13.

Sarah: That’s right!

BeBe: I used to think I was glad to not be apart of that household because fighting over a drum stick wouldn’t been fun.

Sarah: Oh, no. We didn’t have that in our family. There was no fighting at the table. No, we didn’t fight at the table. There was always more food than we needed. Mom and Dad always seemed to have neighborhood kids because we turned no one away if you were hungry.


Come on and sparkle!

BeBe: That speaks to some of the charity work you have done where you have helped many single mothers with children, particularly in New York.

Sarah: Yes, I was given quite a few awards and citations from the city of New York. And since I’ve been back in New Jersey, Governor Jon Corzine has given me resolutions. I’m in the archives of New Jersey. Every year, since I’ve been here, the kids that do well in the neighborhood, I take them to a nice big lunch. Last year was number 27. It’s just an incentive to get them to see if they do well in school, they have an opportunity to do well in life. I enjoy working in the community.

BeBe: That’s wonderful!

Sarah: One of my goals here, which has been difficult because of the economy, is to get a music and arts academy up and running. It’s been taken out of the schools. And we really need the children to understand that music in its art form is also is a focus and discipline that one should have in their lives. I always say they will be counting notes as opposed to bullets.

BeBe: That would be fabulous. And I give vocal support to you behind such an academy. I know if I didn’t have music in my life growing up, I don’t know where I would have ended up. I spent much of my life playing instruments. I was in band, the choir, plays and musicals. Those things kept me busy after school.

Sarah: Yes. I was in the orchestra and choir. I was a cheerleader. Those programs aren’t the same anymore for children. We need them (children) to be focused on being rewarded for work. Having music across the world bridges all races. You can set a piece of music in front of someone from Mexico, China, Italy, and they all will play that music the same.

BeBe: I applaud your efforts and I hope it all comes to fruition.

Sarah: Thank you BeBe. You are inspiring me.

BeBe: I happen to be friends with photographer Duane Cramer and independent filmmaker Amir Jaffer whom you worked with in a video with gay singer Sir Ari Gold in New York. Tell me about that project.

Sarah: Ari and I did this wonderful song called "Sparkle". Whether you are having a good day or bad day, you got to bring your good weather with you because you are a diva inside, and don’t let anyone take that from you is the message.

It really is a focus on young kids who are having (sexual) preference issues and thinking they are not loved because of who they are. Our intention is to let them know that they don’t have to kill themselves. Don’t give up on life. Come on and sparkle! The song should really encourage anyone.


Back to SF

BeBe: It was too long ago, three or four years, when you were out here in San Francisco performing in Teatro Zinzanni.

Sarah: I love Zinzanni. I’m wanting to come back again. That was one of the best summers I had coming to San Francisco to do that. I had been sick for awhile and had some walking issues, and had just gotten back on my feet and recording again with some jazz and blues when Teatro Zinzanni called me. And I thought, hmmm, is this the right thing to do? But when they brought me out to hear me, I definitely wanted to do it. It was one of the best times of my life. I’ll always remember Teatro Zinzanni.

BeBe: That is such a wonderful experience for anyone to have. The type of performance with being under the big tent, the intimacy with the audience, the costumes and supporting cast. All of it is wonderful.

Sarah: Absolutely.

BeBe: Now you’ll be coming back to San Francisco in a few weeks to celebrate three years of the Rrazz Room with their benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Sarah. I’ll be coming March 17 and working with some of the people I’ve worked with before like CeCe Peniston and Melba Moore. To do a benefit for children and seniors, where I am right now (laughs), is my passion. I feel anytime you give of yourself to enhance, or give life, or give hope to a child, you are really securing a solid and more positive future. Generally children who are helped early in life often times will come back and help others as well. That’s what Danny Thomas set up when he started St. Jude. He prayed to God and said if you give me this, I will do the work. That’s what he did, and he kept his promise. And because of that children can get help from his hospital and they don’t have to pay anything. And what the Rrazz Room is doing says a lot about the people who run the place. They are kind humanitarians.

BeBe: The co-owners, Robert Kotonly and Rory Paull, have done wonderful things for the community which spreads nationwide through the performers, such as yourself, spreading that love. You all take it back wherever you are going from here.

Sarah: That is so true.

BeBe: Now besides your inspirational reissue, do you have any other projects coming up that we can look forward to?

Sarah: Yes. I recorded with a Country & Western singer named Chris Gardner. We just did a duet together called "Belong". And that song will be released the first week in March. It’s a beautiful song.

BeBe: You are just staying busy young lady. There is no moss growing under those feet.

Sarah: And of course Keith Richards reissued "The Winos" CD which features me on two songs. It was re-released as "Vintage Vinos" at the same time he released his book. So that is out as well. Here I have rock, country & western, new music with Ari Gold, and my inspirational CD.

A true Diva endures through it all, never making the changing times and circumstances knock her off course. Sarah Dash’s career and life journey is definitely a true description of divadom at its finest.

Sarah Dash will appear as a guest artist at The Rrazz Room’s 3rd Anniversary Gala Benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on March 17th. For more information www.therrazzroom.com or www.sarahdash.net.


Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty's" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off"..
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media's next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.


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