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Grace Slick

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Grace Slick (née Wing; born October 30, 1939) is an American singer, songwriter, and former model, best known as one of the lead singers of the rock groups The Great SocietyJefferson AirplaneJefferson Starship, and Starship, as well as for her work as a solo artist from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s.


Early life (1939–1960s)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Grace Barnett Wing was born October 30, 1939 in Evanston, Illinois, to Ivan W. Wing (1907–1987), of Norwegian and Swedish descent, and Virginia (née Barnett; 1910–1984), the latter a direct descendant of passengers of the Mayflower.[1] In 1948 her brother Chris was born.[2] Her father, working in the investment banking sector for Weedon and Company, was transferred several times when she was a child and in addition to the Chicago area she lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco before her family finally settled in the affluent suburb of Palo Alto, California, south of San Francisco, in the early 1950s. She attended Palo Alto Senior High School before switching to Castilleja High School, a private all-girls school in Palo Alto. Following graduation she attended Finch College in New York from 1957–58, and the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, from 1958–59.

The Great Society[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Slick's music career started in 1964 in San Francisco when she and then husband Jerry Slick formed their own band, influenced by The Beatles as well as by a performance by the freshly-formed Jefferson Airplane at The Matrix and who, Slick realized, maintained an impressive revenue in comparison to her earnings as a model while having fun performing.[3] Grace and Jerry Slick and Jerry's brother Darby Slick and other friends named themselves The Great Society after the social reform program of the same name, beginning during the autumn of 1965 and by early 1966 becoming a popular psychedelic act in the Bay area. By the summer of 1966 The Great Society was recording, releasing one single in San Francisco, a precursor to the future Jefferson Airplane success "Somebody to Love", which was written by Darby. Grace provided vocals, guitar, piano and recorder and co-wrote a majority of the band's songs with her brother-in-law.

Jefferson Airplane[edit source | editbeta]Edit

That autumn Jefferson Airplane's singer Signe Toly Anderson left the band to start a family, and the Airplane asked Slick to join them. Slick stated that she joined the Airplane because it was run in a professional manner, unlike The Great Society. She took two compositions from The Great Society with her: "White Rabbit", which she is purported to have written in an hour,[4] and "Somebody to Love", both of which went on to become hits and to appear on Rolling Stone's top 500 greatest songs of all time. Though both songs were first performed by The Great Society, their versions of the songs were much different: the Great Society's rendering of "White Rabbit" featured an oboe solo by Slick.

With Slick on board the Airplane began recording new music, and they took on a psychedelic direction from their former folk-rock. By 1967, Surrealistic Pillow and the singles taken from it were great successes, and Jefferson Airplane became one of the most popular bands in the country. Slick earned a position as one of the most prominent female rock musicians of her time. Other songs she recorded with Jefferson Airplane include "Two Heads", "Lather" and "Greasy Heart". In 1968, Slick performed "Crown of Creation" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in blackface and ended the performance with a Black Panther fist.[5] In an appearance on a 1969 episode of the Dick Cavett Show, she became the first person to say "motherfucker" on live television during a performance of "We Can Be Together" by Jefferson Airplane.[6]

Jefferson Starship and beyond[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]Slick in 1976.[3][4]Slick and Kantner with Jefferson Starship.

After Jefferson Airplane terminated, Slick – along with other bandmates – formed Jefferson Starship and began a string of solo albums with Manhole, followed by DreamsSoftware and Welcome to the Wrecking BallManhole also featured keyboardist, bassist Pete Sears who later joined the original Jefferson Starship in 1974. Sears and Grace penned several early Jefferson Starship songs together, including "Hyperdrive" and "Play On Love". Dreams, which was produced by Ron Frangipane and incorporated many of the ideas she encountered attending 12-step meetings, is the most personal of her solo albums and was nominated for a Grammy Award. The song "Do It the Hard Way" from Dreams is one example of Grace's music at the time.[7]

Slick was nicknamed "The Chrome Nun" by David Crosby, who also referred to Paul Kantner as "Baron von Tollbooth". Their nicknames were used as the title of an album she made with bandmates Paul Kantner and David Freiberg entitled Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun.[citation needed]

Alcoholism[edit source | editbeta]Edit

During Jefferson Starship's 1978 European tour, Slick's alcoholism became a problem for the band. The group had to cancel the first night in Germany because she was too intoxicated to perform, causing the audience to riot. She performed the next night with the band but was so inebriated she could not sing properly but began to attack the audience, mocking the country for losing World War II, and groping both female audience members and band mates.[8] The next day she left the group. That same year she was dragged off a San Francisco game show for abusing the contestants.[9] She was admitted to a detoxification facility at least twice, once during the 1970s at Duffy's in Napa Valley,[10] and once in the 1990s with daughter, China.[11] Slick publicly has acknowledged her alcoholism, discussed her rehabilitation experiences, and commented on her use of LSD, marijuana and other substances in her autobiography, various interviews and several celebrity addiction and recovery books including The Courage to Change by Dennis Wholey, and The Harder They Fall by Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill.

During the 1980s, while Slick was the only former Jefferson Airplane member in Starship, the band went on to score three chart-topping successes with "We Built This City", "Sara", and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now". Despite the success, Grace since has spoken negatively about the experience and the music.[12] She left the group again in 1988, shortly after the release of No Protection. In 1989 Slick, and her former Jefferson Airplane band members, reformed the group, released a reunion album, and made a successful tour.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Slick was married twice - to Gerald "Jerry" Slick, a cinematographer, from 1961 to 1971, then to Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship lighting designer, from 1976 to 1994. She has one child - a daughter, China Wing Kantner (born January 25, 1971).[13][14]

China's father is former Jefferson Airplane guitarist, Paul Kantner, with whom Slick had a relationship from 1969 to 1975. During her hospital stay after the baby's birth, Slick sarcastically told one of the attending nurses that she intended to name the child "god", with a lowercase "g", as she "wished for the child to be humble". The nurse took Slick seriously, and her report of the incident caused a minor stir,[15][16] as well as the creation of a rock-and-roll urban legend.[17]

Legal disputes[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Slick and Tricia Nixon, former President Richard Nixon's daughter, are alumnae of Finch College. Grace was invited to a tea party for the alumnae at the White House in 1969. She invited the political activist, Abbie Hoffman, to be her escort and planned to spike President Richard Nixon's tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. The plan was thwarted when they were prevented from entering after being recognized by White House security personnel, as Slick had been placed on an FBI blacklist.[18]

In 1971 after a long recording session, she crashed her car into a wall near the Golden Gate Bridge while racing with Jorma Kaukonen.[19] She suffered a concussion and later used the incident as the basis of her "Never Argue with a German if You're Tired or European Song", which appears on the Bark album (1971).[20]

While Slick had troubles with the law while performing as a part of Jefferson Airplane, she was arrested at least four times for what she has referred to as "TUI" ("Talking Under the Influence") and "Drunk Mouth".[21] While the charges were DUI, the four arrests mentioned in her autobiography occurred when she was not inside a vehicle.

The first occurred after an argument in the car with then-partner Paul Kantner, who became tired of bickering, pulled the car keys from the ignition, and tossed them through the car window onto someone's front lawn. While Slick crawled around on the lawn looking for the keys, a police officer arrived and asked what was happening. Her response (laughter) did not amuse the officer, and she was taken to jail.

The second occurred after Slick had neglected to check the oil level in her car engine and flames began leaping out from under the hood. When an officer arrived, and asked what was happening, her response that time was less amusing and more sarcastic. With her car ablaze, it seemed obvious to her what was happening. As a result of her quip, she was taken to the Marin County jail.

The third was after an officer encountered her sitting against a tree trunk in the backwoods of Marin County drinking wine, eating bread, and reading poetry. When the officer asked what she was doing, her sarcastic response got her another ride to the Marin County jail.[22]

The fourth incident occurred when Grace Slick entered a public library in San Jose and threatened to attack the receptionist. She was eventually discovered to be intoxicated after two police officers arrested her for "disturbing the peace".

The singer was also reportedly arrested in 1994 for assault with a deadly weapon after pointing an unloaded gun at a police officer. She alleged that the officer had come onto her property without explanation.[23]

Later life (1988–present)[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Slick left Starship during 1988. After a brief Jefferson Airplane reunion and tour the following year, she retired from the music business. During a 1998 interview with VH1 on a Behind the Music documentary featuring Jefferson Airplane, Slick, who was never shy about the idea of getting old, stated that the main reason she retired from the music business was that "all rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire". In a 2007 interview, she repeated her belief that "you can do jazz, classical, blues, opera, country until you're 150, but rap and rock and roll are really a way for young people to get that anger out." and "it's silly to perform a song that has no relevance to the present or expresses feelings you no longer have". Even so, she has made a couple of appearances over the years with Paul Kantner's revamped version of Jefferson Starship when the band has played in Los Angeles, the most recent being a post-9/11 gig during which she came on the stage initially covered in black from head to toe in a makeshift burqa, which she removed to reveal a covering bearing an American flag and the words "No Fear". Her statement to fans on the outfit was: "The outfit is not about Islam, it's about repression; this flag is not about politics, it's about liberty."[24]

After retiring from music, she began painting and drawing. She has done many renditions of her fellow 1960s musicians, such as Janis JoplinJerry Garcia, and others. In 2000 she began displaying and selling her artwork. She attends many of her art shows across the United States. She has generally refrained from engaging in the music business, although she did perform on "Knock Me Out", a track from In Flight, the 1996 solo debut from former 4 Non Blondessinger, and friend of daughter China, Linda Perry. The song was also on the soundtrack to The Crow: City of Angels.

In a 2001 USA Today article, she said, "I'm in good health and people want to know what I do to be this way ... I don't eat cheese, I don't eat duck—the point is I'm vegan." However, she admitted she's "not strict vegan, because I'm a hedonist pig. If I see a big chocolate cake that is made with eggs, I'll have it."[25] Slick released her autobiography, Somebody to Love? A Rock and Roll Memoir, in 1998 and narrated an abridged version of the book as an audiobook. A biography, Grace Slick, The Biography, by Barbara Rowes, was released in 1980 and is currently out of print.

In 2006 Slick suffered from diverticulitis. After initial surgery, she had a relapse requiring further surgery and a tracheotomy. She was placed in an induced coma for two months and then had to learn to walk again.[26]

Also in 2006, Slick gave a speech at the inauguration of the new Virgin America airline, which had named their first aircraft "Jefferson Airplane". In 2008, Slick contributed vocals to the hidden track (actually a previously unreleased 1970 outtake featuring Slick, Paul Kantner and Jack Traylor) of the latest Jefferson Starship release, Jefferson's Tree of Liberty.[27] In 2010, Slick co-wrote "Edge of Madness" with singer Michelle Mangione to raise money for the BP Oil Spill.[28]

Visual art[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[5][6]Grace Slick in 2008.

After retiring, and after a house fire, divorce, and breakup, Slick began drawing and painting animals, mainly to amuse herself and because doing so made her happy during a difficult period in her life. Soon thereafter, she was approached about writing her memoir, which ultimately became Somebody to Love? A Rock-and-Roll Memoir. Her agent saw her artwork and asked her to do some portraits of some of her various contemporaries from the rock-and-roll genre to be included in the autobiography. Hesitant at first (because she thought “it was way too cute. Rock-n-Roll draws Rock-n-Roll”), she eventually agreed because she found she enjoyed it, and color renditions of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia appeared in the completed autobiography.[29][30] An “Alice in Wonderland”-themed painting and various other sketches are scattered throughout the book. Her paintings of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were used for the cover art of the albumThe Best of Hot Tuna. Though Slick has been drawing and painting since she was a child, she admits to not being able to multitask and therefore did not do much of it while she was focusing on her musical career.[30] A notable exception is the cover art of her first solo album, Manhole, which she signed "Child Type Odd Art by Grace".

Slick is not bound by any specific style or medium in her production of visual art and has no interest in developing one.[31] She uses acrylic paints (she says oil takes too long to dry), canvas, pen, ink, scratchboard, pastels, and pencil. Many of her works are mixed media. Her styles range from the children’s bookish “Alice in Wonderland” themes to the realism of the Rock and Roll portraits and scratchboards of animals to the minimalist ink wash styled nudes to a variety of other subjects and styles.[32] The best-selling prints and originals are, not surprisingly, her various renditions of the white rabbit and the portraits of her colleagues in the music industry.[33] In 2006, the popularity of her “Alice in Wonderland” works led to a partnership with Dark Horse Comics, Inc. that resulted in the release of stationery and journals with the “Wonderland” motif.[34]

While critics have variously panned and praised her work, Slick seems indifferent to the criticism.[35] She views her visual artistry as just another extension of the artistic temperament that landed her in the music scene in the first place, as it allows her to continue to produce art in a way that does not require the physical demands of appearing on a stage nightly or traveling with a large group of people.[29][30]

She attends many of her art gallery shows across the United States, sometimes attending over 30 shows in a year. While she says she enjoys talking with the people who come to her art shows, she is not a fan of the traveling involved, particularly the flying.[29] At most of her art shows, those who purchase a piece of her art get a photo with Slick, an opportunity to chat, and a personalized autograph on the back of the piece that has been purchased.

Legacy[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Slick was one of the first female rock stars, alongside her close contemporary Janis Joplin, and therefore an important figure in the development of rock music in the late 1960s. Her distinctive vocal style and striking stage presence exerted influence on other female performers including Stevie Nicks[36] and Patti Smith.[37] More recently, Slick has been cited as an influence on Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.[38]

Artistic accomplishments[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Slick's longevity in the music business helped her to earn a rather unusual distinction; the oldest female vocalist on a Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping single. "We Built This City" reached #1 on November 16, 1985, shortly after her 46th birthday. The previous record was age 44 for Tina Turner, with 1984's #1 smash, "What's Love Got To Do With It". Turner (who is, coincidentally, within a month of Slick's age) turned 45 two months after the song topped the charts. Slick broke her own record in April 1987 at age 47 when "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" topped the U.S. charts. Her record stood for 12 years but was ultimately broken by Cher, who was 53 in 1999 when "Believe" hit #1.

Slick did vocals for a piece known as Jazzy Spies, a series of animated shorts about the numbers 2 through 10 (a #1 short was never made), which aired on Sesame Street. The segment for the number two appeared in the first episode of the first season of Sesame Street, November 10, 1969. She was nominated for a Grammy award in 1980 as Best Rock Female Vocalist for her solo album Dreams.[citation needed]

She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 (as a member of Jefferson Airplane).[39]

She was ranked #20 on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll.[when?] In 1993, she narrated the Stephen King short story "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band" on his Nightmares & Dreamscapes audiobook.

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Solo albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Album U.S.Billboard 200 UK Albums Chart
1973 Manhole 127 -
1980 Dreams 32 28
1981 Welcome to the Wrecking Ball! 48 -
1984 Software 206 -
Compilation
  • The Best of Grace Slick (1999) (compilation album, also includes tracks by Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship, in which Grace Slick was the lead vocalist)
with The Great Society
with Jefferson Airplane
with Jefferson Starship
with Starship
with Paul Kantner
Guest appearances

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