If you’re struggling to place Sister Sledge, three words should do the trick: We Are Family. The 1979 song is one of the most requested of all time, a timeless disco classic, up there with I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor. Love it or loathe it, you’re going to hear it at karaoke bars, pride marches and wedding receptions for the rest of your life. According to Kathy Sledge, the youngest of the sisters, the song’s longevity owes much to its feel-good message.

“We Are Family is like the theme song for everyone from gay pride to girl scouts,” Sledge says. “I think it’s a song that unites you and lifts you up and the message is universal – that we can be strong together.”

Clearly, this universal message has kept the girls in demand – the four sisters who make up Sister Sledge have about 40 years of stardom under their disco belts. But surely, they must be getting a little bored of performing their Nile Rogers-written signature hit after all these years.

“I get that question all the time, and I can honestly tell you – never,” Sledge says. “When you look at it from my perspective, it’s always new. Just last week, I hosted the Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington DC and I had to sing it there. But the funny thing is for these people, it’s their first time receiving it this way. So that makes it feel like it’s my first time as well.”

It’s kind of like asking Popeye if he gets sick of eating spinach. The song is their staple and next month, when Sister Sledge brings a fresh dose of disco fever Down Under, audiences will be expecting it. “When I sing it in Australia, it will be new to me again,” Sledge adds.

After Chic – apparently the ‘kings of disco’ – toured last year, it seems Seventies glam is alive and kicking. But wasn’t Eighties retro back in vogue last year as well? Why do these things keep coming around? Have we just run out of ideas?

“I see the fliers that are like, ‘get out your platforms’. OK – I’ll wear platforms again. It’s funny how these sorts of things circle back around. Well, the good things do,” Sledge says. “I think that for every era, you need to remember that it’s new to a whole new generation.”

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Kathy’s grandmother, Viola Williams, a former opera singer, encouraged the girls to perform from a young age and, in 1972, sisters Kim, Debbie, Joni and a young Kathy banded together, changing their name from Mrs Williams’s Grandchildren to Sister Sledge. Their fifth – seemingly ‘long lost’ – sister, Carol, opted instead for a career in teaching.

The four sisters signed their first record deal with Atco Records in 1975 and released Mama Never Told Me, which promptly went to No 1 in the UK. After going from performing at her local church to being catapulted onto the world stage at the age of 15, it’s a wonder Kathy managed to handle the fame.

“I think the first word that comes to mind when you think of fame is ‘balance’,“ she says. “If you don’t have balance, then get out of fame’s way. That’s what sustains you and keeps you real.”

It would have been difficult for Kathy to get out of fame’s way – after all, she was practically born into it. Her father is Edwin Sledge, of the legendary Broadway duo ‘Fred and Sledge’ and her mother, Florez, was a singer and actress.

“My entire life has been music,” Sledge says. “It’s the same as Michael Jackson.”

Speaking of the late king of pop, there are some striking parallels between his and Sledge’s meteoric rises. Born just six months apart, they’re both the youngest in a family of singers. Both established themselves with disco and, in the end, managed to make it as successful solo artists. In fact, Sister Sledge was affectionately known as the “female Jackson Five” and even toured with the brothers during the Seventies.

“We were all devastated when Michael passed. He was someone who seemed so timeless and now, more than ever, he always will be timeless,” Sledge says. “When people like Michael and now Whitney Houston leave us, you just think, ‘OK, don’t hold back. Do the things that you want to do, don’t just talk about them’.”

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When the sisters first burst onto the scene, they were pioneers in their own right and, by the standards of 1979, the lyrics of their hit, He’s The Greatest Dancer – about wanting to go home with the crème de la crème of the dancefloor – were considered risqué.

“We were the first girl band to come along and not wear wigs, have choreography and wear spandex pants,” Sledge explains, insisting that their all-singing, all-dancing group was also respected for its female-empowering lyrics. Not one to denounce new musicians, though, she gives equal props to today’s girl bands.

“I love what Beyonce has done with Destiny’s Child – there are so many intricacies,” she says. ”Back then it was like, same hair, same dress. Now there’s so much originality and diversity.”

Sledge, 53, shows no signs of slowing down. Since carving out a solo career in 1992,  on the back of the No 1 dance album Take Me Back To Love Again, she has also starred in the musical Oh What A Night, which toured the world. More recently, she delved into jazz, playing Billie Holiday in her one-woman show, The Brighter Side Of Day.

“When I perform her, especially to gay and lesbian crowds, they cry,” she says. ”I feel that I am reaching deep and lifting up a legend.”

And if that’s not enough, Sledge urges fans to “watch this space” for a new reality show, focusing on her family. Naturally, it’s called We Are Family.

“It’s another dimension, about the next generation,” she says. “I’ll be honest – I’m not a huge fan of reality genre. I didn’t grow up with it. But I think it’s going to be here forever. So I thought, ‘let’s get my daughter Kristen, who is a musician, involved, as well as some of the old folks that we used to work with, and have some fun with it’.”

Sledge is the brains behind the show, the executive producer and, of course, the star. According to the brief, it’s all about “Kathy’s passion to bring her estranged sisters back together again and reignite the Sister Sledge legacy.”

If the song can reunite Robin Williams’s dysfunctional family in The Birdcage, then surely it can reunite the Sledge sisters. And, if not, well, family fall-outs make for great TV.

Sister Sledge, featuring Kathy Sledge, will play in Australia at the end of the year. Dates TBA. See hifi.com.au