In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Sly and the Family Stone burst onto the music scene with a unique sound which combined R&B, soul, funk and rock. Sly and the Family Stone were one of the first racially integrated bands in music history.
In 1966, Sly Stone formed the band the Stoners in San Francisco, which featured female trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. Though the Stoners didn’t last long, he brought Robinson along as one of the core members of his next group, Sly & the Family Stone. Formed in early 1967, the Family Stone also featured Fred Stone (guitar, vocals), Larry Graham Jr. (bass, vocals), Greg Errico (drums), Jerry Martini (saxophone), and Rose Stone (piano), who were all of different racial backgrounds. The group’s eclectic music and multiracial composition made them distinctive from the numerous emerging bands in San Francisco at the time, and their first single, “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” became a regional hit. This multiracial band made a strong impression working around the Bay Area in 1967.
The band signed with Epic Records shortly afterward, releasing their debut album, A Whole New Thing, by the end of 1967. The record failed, but the follow-up, Dance to the Music, generated a Top 10 pop and R&B hit in 1968 with its title track. Life followed later in 1968, but the record sold fewer copies than their previous albums. “Everyday People,” released late in 1968, turned their fortunes back around, rising to the top of the pop and R&B charts and setting the stage for the breakthrough success of 1969’s Stand!
On December 29th 1968, Sly and the Family Stone appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. That night they performed a medley of their hits including “Dance to the Music.” Sly opened their act saying “Don’t hate the black, don’t hate the white. If you get bitten simply hate the bite.” With their colorful outfits and afro hairstyles the group gave an impressive and energetic performance.
The eclectic group came back to The Ed Sullivan Show a few months later on March 23rd, 1969. They performed “Love City” that night, on a stage decorated with animal fur rugs. As was common for them, their performance was very lively, interactive and full of dancing. At one point they got off the stage to dance and mingle among the audience.
On both of their Ed Sullivan Show appearances, Sly Stone concluded their act stating “Thank you for letting us be ourselves.”
Sly and the Family Stone’s performances on The Ed Sullivan Show occurred at the pinnacle of their careers. However, during the early 1970s, the band began to fall apart because of drug abuse and ego clashes; consequently, the fortunes and reliability of the band deteriorated, leading to its dissolution in 1975.
Sly Stone continued to record albums and tour with a new rotating lineup under the Sly & the Family Stone name from 1975-1983. In 1987, Sly Stone was arrested and sentenced for cocaine possession, after which he disappeared almost completely from the public eye.
Sly and the Family Stone greatly influenced the sound of pop, soul, R&B, funk, and hip hop music, as well as artists like Rick James, Prince and the Jackson 5. The Jackson 5 first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show featured the young group singing a cover of the Family Stone’s hit Stand!
In the book “For the Record: Sly and the Family Stone: An Oral History” author Joel Selvin perfectly sums up the importance of Sly & the Family Stone’s influence on American music by stating “there are two types of black music: black music before Sly Stone, and black music after Sly Stone.” Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.