Trenton native, singer, songwriter, actress, and music teacher Sarah Dash passed away suddenly on Monday, September 20th after telling friends and family members that she wasn’t feeling well just days before. She was 76 years old.
I, like many, was shocked when I heard the news, because Ms. Dash was still touring and showing up for others until the end. I spoke to Ms. Dash in late August to schedule an interview for a profile in the Trenton Journal. Ms. Dash represented the people in Trenton who did good work for the community that I wanted to highlight. As we spoke, I started to formulate the questions that I would ask Ms. Dash once we sat down for a proper interview. She insisted that I interview her at Sprout U School of the Arts, located at 27 East Paul Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey.
Ms. Dash and I spoke on the phone for about 15 to 20 minutes. I mostly listened. She was poised, up front, and contemplative. “Text me a few dates and times in September so we can do the interview,” she instructed me as she was still performing and doing spot dates. I wanted to ask her about growing up in Trenton and what Trenton meant to her. I wanted to ask her about her storied career as a platinum-selling recording artist. I wanted to tell her how much she meant to Trenton, but I never got the chance to ask the questions that I wanted, but Ms. Dash told me everything I needed to know about her within that 15-minute phone conversation with her.
I wanted to write about Ms. Dash’s legendary career and growing up in Trenton. I felt her steering my focus to what she wanted me to highlight instead, like any media savvy professional would do. She spoke about her work with the students at Sprout U School of the Arts. Sprout’s mission is to engage children from infancy to grade 12 in joyful, meaningful, creative learning, through an adventurous, experiential curriculum. I could hear the smile and feel Ms. Dash’s pride for the students when she talked about all of the wonderful work the students are doing in the school, including learning to speak Korean and visiting the country to perform. The school is run by Dash's niece, Danielle Miller-Winrow.
Born on August 18, 1945 in Trenton, New Jersey to Abraham and Mary Elizabeth Dash, Sarah was the seventh of 13 children. Sarah’s father was a Pentecostal pastor and her mother a nurse. She grew up singing in the Trenton Church of Christ choir. In 1962, Dash joined Nona Hendryx, Cindy Birdsong, Patricia Holte (nee Patti LaBelle), to form the Bluebelles. In 1978, Dash released her self-titled debut album, which included the top-10 disco hit, "Sinner Man". In 1988, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, invited Dash to tour with him, and she made an appearance on the iconic group’s 1989 Steel Wheel album.
After years of success as a recording artist touring the world as a founding member of Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles in the 60s and LaBelle in the 70s, Ms. Dash never turned her back on Trenton, eventually becoming the Ambassador of Music for the Capital City.
Just two days before her death, Patti LaBelle called Dash up to the stage to sing with her at a concert in Atlantic City. Upon hearing the news of Dash’s passing, LaBelle wrote on social media honoring her friend:
“We were just on-stage together on Saturday and it was such a powerful and special moment! #SarahDash was an awesomely talented, beautiful, and loving soul who blessed my life and the lives of so many others in more ways than I can say. And I could always count on her to have my back! That’s who Sarah was...a loyal friend and a voice for those who didn’t have one.”
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who was also a friend of Dash’s said, “She was a superstar in her own right...she could have gone anywhere after her fame and success and she chose to come back to her roots in Trenton.”