Grace Slick in 2008
|Birth name||Grace Barnett Wing|
|Born||October 30, 1939
Evanston, Illinois, USA
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, acid rock, hard rock|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, Visual artist|
|Instruments||Vocals, keyboards, guitar|
|Years active||1965–1990 (music), 1998–present (visual arts)|
|Associated acts||Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Starship, The Great Society|
|Website||Grace Slick paintings|
Grace Slick (born Grace Barnett Wing on October 30, 1939) is an American singer and songwriter, who was one of the lead singers of the rock groups The Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship, and as a solo artist, for nearly three decades, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. Slick was an important figure in the 1960s psychedelic rock genre, and is known for her witty lyrics and powerful vocals.
Grace Slick was born in Evanston, Illinois, to Ivan W. Wing (1907-1987, of Norwegian-Swedish extraction) and his wife, Virginia Barnett (1909-1983, a direct descendant of Mayflower passengers of English, Irish, and Scottish descent). In 1949, a month before her tenth birthday, her brother Chris Wing was born. Her father 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 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 to 1958 and the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, from 1958–1959.
Slick maintained a friendship with Janis Joplin that began early in her music career and lasted until Joplin's death by drug overdose on October 4, 1970. She also had a friendship, as well as a one-time sexual relationship, with Jim Morrison. According to her biography, the sexual relationship occurred during their 1968 European tour, but no real romance was involved. Jeff Tamarkin's Jefferson Airplane biography, however, does not mention such a relationship. She was also good friends with The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.
Slick was married twice, to cinematographer Gerald "Jerry" Slick from 1961 to 1971 and then to Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship lighting designer, from 1976 to 1994. She has one daughter, China Wing Kantner (born January 25, 1971). China's father is former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner, with whom Grace had a relationship from 1969 through 1975. During her stay in the hospital after the baby's birth, Grace sarcastically told one of the attending nurses (whom Grace found to be annoyingly sanctimonious) that she intended to name the child "god", with a lowercase "g", as she "wished for the child to be humble". The nurse took Grace seriously, and her reports of the incident caused both a minor stir and the birth of a rock-and-roll urban legend.
Slick's music career started in 1965 in San Francisco. Slick and her then husband were influenced to start their own band by The Beatles after they saw the newly formed Jefferson Airplane perform at The Matrix. Slick, who was a fashion model at the time, stated the main reason for going into music was that after seeing Airplane perform, she realized they were making more money than she was as a model and were having more fun performing. Slick and her husband formed a band along with her then brother-in-law, Darby Gould-Slick, and other friends, calling it The Great Society after the social reform program of the same name. The group debuted during the autumn of 1965 and by early 1966 was one of the popular psychedelic acts in the Bay area. Grace provided vocals and played guitar, piano and the recorder. In addition, she and her brother-in-law wrote a majority of the songs.
By the summer of 1966, The Great Society was one of the best-known bands in San Francisco. The band recorded material, releasing one single in San Francisco, a precursor to the future Jefferson Airplane success "Somebody to Love" (titled "Someone To Love") written by Darby. During autumn, Jefferson Airplane's singer Signe Toly Anderson had left to start a family, and the band asked Grace to join them. Slick stated that part of the reason for leaving was that the Airplane was a much more professional band than The Great Society. She took two compositions from The Great Society: "White Rabbit" (which she is purported to have written in an hour), and "Somebody to Love" (both of which became huge hits), and the band began recording an album. By 1967, Surrealistic Pillow and its singles were great successes and Jefferson Airplane was one of the best-known bands in the country. Grace became one of the first popular female rock musicians. In addition to this, her beauty and stage persona also turned her into a sex symbol for the era.
Other notable songs that she recorded with Jefferson Airplane include "Two Heads", "Lather" and "Greasy Heart". The songs "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" appeared on Rolling Stone's top 500 greatest songs of all time. Both songs were first performed by The Great Society; their version of "White Rabbit" featured an oboe solo by Slick.
In 1968, Grace performed "Crown of Creation" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in black face and ended with a Black Panther fist. In a 1969 Dick Cavett Show performance, Grace became the first person to say "motherfucker" on live television during a performance of "We Can Be Together" as Jefferson Airplane.
After Jefferson Airplane terminated, Slick along with other bandmates formed the even more popular Jefferson Starship. Slick's solo albums include Manhole, Dreams, Software and Welcome to the Wrecking Ball. 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.
Grace was given the nickname "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.
During the 1980s, Slick was the only former Jefferson Airplane member to be 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 huge success, Grace has since spoken negatively about the experience and the music. She left the group soon after their second number one success. In 1989, Slick and her former Jefferson Airplane band members reformed the group. They released a reunion album and a successful tour followed.
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.
During 1971, after a long recording session, she crashed her car into a wall near the Golden Gate Bridge while racing with Jorma Kaukonen. Amazingly, she suffered only 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).
While Slick had troubles with the law while acting as a part of Jefferson Airplane, she was arrested individually at least three times for what she has referred to as "TUI" ("Talking Under the Influence") and "Drunk Mouth". While technically the charges were DUI, the three arrests mentioned in her autobiography occurred when she was not actually inside a vehicle.
The first of the arrests 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) didn't amuse the officer, and she was taken to jail.
The second time occurred after Slick neglected to check the oil level in her car engine and flames began leaping out from under the hood. When an officer arrived and, as previously, asked what was happening, her response that particular time was less amusing and more sarcastic. With her car belching fire, it seemed obvious to her what was happening. As a result of her quip, she was taken to the Marin County jail.
The third arrest happened after an officer caught her sitting against a tree trunk in the back woods 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.
During Jefferson Starship's 1978 European tour, Slick's alcoholism became a big problem for the band. The group had to cancel the first night in Germany because Slick 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 and then began to attack the audience. She abused the crowd verbally by mocking the country for losing WWII and groped both audience members and band mates. The next day she left the group. She was admitted to a detoxification facility at least twice, once during the 1970s at Duffy's in Napa Valley and once in the 1990s with daughter China. Slick has publicly acknowledged her alcoholism, discussed her rehabilitation experiences, and commented on her use of LSD, marijuana and other substances in her autobiography, in various interviews, and in 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.
She was reportedly arrested in 1994 for assault with a deadly weapon after pointing an unloaded gun at a police officer (after, according to her, the officer came onto her property without explanation). A remarkably similar situation is described in Grace's song "Law Man", released on the Bark album in 1971.
Slick left Starship during 1988 at age 48. 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 giving her age, 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." 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 "Fuck 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."
After retirement from music, she began painting and drawing. She has done many renditions of her fellow 1960s musicians, such as Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and others. In 2000 she began displaying and selling her artwork. She attends many of her art shows all 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 Blondes singer, 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 also admits that 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."
Grace 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 2004, Grace had an American Quarter Horse named after her, Emeralds Grace Slick, a grulla mare bred and raised by Emerald Hills Farm in Smock, Pennsylvania. Emeralds Grace Slick now lives in Aurelia, Iowa.
In 2006, Grace 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.
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.
After retirement from the music business—and after a devastating house fire, divorce, and bad 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. In addition, 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 album The 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 didn’t do it much while she was focusing on the various bands and music she was involved with during her musical career. One notable exception is the cover art of her first solo album, Manhole, on which she signed “Child Type Odd Art by Grace” on the front cover.
Slick isn’t faithful to any specific style or medium in her production of visual art and has no interest in developing one. 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 Japanese sumi-e-styled nudes to a variety of other subjects and styles. 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. 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.
While critics have variously panned and praised her work, Slick seems indifferent to the criticism. 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 doesn’t require the physical demands of appearing on a stage nightly or traveling with a large group of people.
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. 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.
Area Arts is her art distributor in the United States, and The Limelight Agency is her worldwide art distributor.
Alongside her close contemporary Janis Joplin, Slick was an important figure in the development of rock music in the late 1960s and was one of the first female rock stars. Her distinctive vocal style and striking stage presence exerted a definite influence on other female performers, including Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Sandy Denny and Dolores O'Riordan. Like Joplin, Slick's uncompromising persona and powerful voice helped to open up new modes of expression for female performers, giving a new legitimacy to the role of the female lead singer in the male-dominated world of rock music.
Slick's longevity in the music business helped her 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.
She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 (as a member of Jefferson Airplane).
She was ranked #20 on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll.
Aside from singing, she also sometimes played piano, keyboards, oboe, and recorder for the bands.
Grace Barnett Wing (born 30 October 1939) is a singer and songwriter. She is lead singer with the rock groups The Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, and Jefferson Starship, and is most famous by her married name, Grace Slick