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, Starship, and was 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, often acid-tongued, thought-provoking lyrics.
Grace Slick was born in the Chicago area (Evanston, IL) to Ivan W. Wing (of Norwegian-Swedish extraction) and his wife Virginia Barnett (a direct descendant of Mayflower passengers). 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 fifties. 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 1956-1957 and the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida from 1957-1958.
Before entering the music scene, Slick was a model for I. Magnin for a short time in the early sixties.
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, makes no mention of 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 – 1971, and then to Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship lighting designer, from 1976 – 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 (who Grace thought to be annoyingly sanctimonious) that she intended to name the child “god”, with a small 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.
Notable songs that she recorded with Jefferson Airplane/Starship include “White Rabbit” (which she is purported to have written in an hour), “Somebody to Love” (which was written by then-brother-in-law Darby Slick and not Grace), “We Built This City”, “Lather” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. 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 and White Rabbit featured an oboe solo by Slick.
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 how Grace was viewing her life and concerns at the time.
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 has exerted a definite influence on other female performers, such as 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.
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.
Slick and Tricia Nixon, former President Richard Nixon’s daughter, are both alumni 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 Nixon’s tea with LSD. The plan was thwarted when they were prevented from entering after being recognized by White House security personnel.
In 1971, after a long recording session, she crashed her Mercedes 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 was involved in several run-ins with the law while 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 occurred after an argument in the car with then-partner Paul Kantner, who grew 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 going on. 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 going on, her response that particular time was less amusement and more sarcastic. With her car belching fire, it seemed obvious to her what was going on. 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, again, asked what was going on, her sarcastic response landed her back in the Marin County jail.
In 1978, Grace arrived drunk at a Jefferson Starship concert in Germany. She verbally attacked the crowd and attempted to sing. The next day she left the group. She was admitted to a detoxification facility at least twice, once in the 1970s at Duffy’s in Napa Valley and once in the 1990s with daughter China. Slick has publicly acknowledged her alcoholism, discussed her rehab experiences, and commented on her use of LSD, marijuana and other substances in her autobiography, 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 in 1988 at age 48. Following 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 where she came on the stage initially covered in black from head to toe in a make-shift burqa, which she removed to reveal a covering bearing an American Flag and the words “F— 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 turned her attention to painting and drawing. She has done many renditions of her fellow ’60s 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 stayed away from music, 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 also appeared 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 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.
In (2004), Grace had an American Quarter Horse named after her, Emeralds Grace Slick, a 2004 grulla mare bred and raised by Emerald Hills Farm, Smock, PA. Emeralds Grace Slick now lives in Aurelia, IA.
After retirement from the music business — and after a devastating house fire, divorce, and bad break-up — 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 art work 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.
Though Slick has been drawing and painting since she was a child, she admits to not being able to multi-task, 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, 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-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 alternately 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 world-wide art distributor.
Slick’s longevity in the music business helped her earn a rather unusual distinction: the oldest female vocalist on a Billboard Hot 100 number one single. “We Built This City” reached #1 on November 16, 1985, less than three weeks after her 46th birthday. The previous record was age 44 for Tina Turner, with 1984′s number-one hit, “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 Summer 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 number one.
Slick did vocals for Jazz Numbers, a series of animated shorts about the numbers 2 through 10, which aired on Sesame Street. Jazz #2, for instance, 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 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. – adapted from Wikipedia