Grace Slick is an American singer-songwriter who is known for her solo career as well as her time as one of the lead singers of the band Jefferson Starship. In 1965, she started her own group. Slick and her band became part of the San Francisco rock scene, and she befriended members of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. After her band split up in 1966, she became one of the lead singers for Jefferson Airplane. She wrote one of their greatest hits, "White Rabbit" and helped her brother-in-law Darby Slick write "Somebody to Love."
Early Life and Education
Grace Slick was born Grace Barnett Wing on October 30, 1939, in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up as the oldest child of Ivan and Virginia, an investment banker and a former singer and actress. As a child, Slick idolized such performers as actress Betty Grable. She also admired characters from children's stories—Robin Hood, Alice in Wonderland and Snow White among others—and loved to pretend and play dress-up.
Around the age of three, Slick moved to Los Angeles, California, with her family for her father's work. They relocated to the San Francisco area a few years later. While there, the family grew to include her younger brother, Chris, born in 1949.
In school, Slick enjoyed her art and English classes, but she stood out more for her personality than her academic accomplishments; as a teenager, Slick became known for her sarcastic sense of humor. After high school, Slick went to Finch College in New York for a year before transferring to the University of Miami in Florida. All the while, Slick focused most of her energy on having a good time instead of studying. She soon decided to abandon college and return to San Francisco after a friend sent her an article about the burgeoning hippie scene there.
Back in Northern California in 1958, Slick took some time to find a direction for her life. She auditioned to be a singer but was met with little success. In 1961, she married Jerry Slick, a childhood friend and aspiring filmmaker. After a short stint in San Diego, the couple moved back to San Francisco. She soon found work there as a model for an I. Magnin department store, while Jerry studied at San Francisco State University. Slick also started writing music, contributing a song to the soundtrack of a short film created by Jerry.
In 1965, Slick found more musical inspiration after watching the band Jefferson Airplane at a San Francisco nightclub. She soon started her own group, calling it the Great Society. With their name, they poked fun at the "Great Society," a term used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to describe his programs for social reform. The band consisted of Jerry on drums; Grace's brother-in-law Darby on guitar; David Minor on guitar and vocals; Peter van Gelder on saxophone; and Bard Dupont on bass. They found inspiration for their lyrics from the social and political turmoil bubbling over in the United States at the time.
'Jefferson Airplane Takes Off' and Woodstock
Slick and her band became part of the San Francisco rock scene, and she befriended members of Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. After her band split up in 1966, Slick became one of the lead singers for Jefferson Airplane, after vocalist Signe Anderson left the group to focus on her family. By this time, the group had a recording contract, and had already released their first album: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966).
For the group's second album Surrealistic Pillow (1967), Slick joined as its vocalist. She revisited two songs she had done with the Great Society with her new group. Slick recorded a new version of the ballad she penned, "White Rabbit," which proved to be one of Jefferson Airplane's biggest hits. She later revealed to journalist James M. Clash that she wrote the Spanish ballad on a second-hand upright piano filled with broken keys. In addition to "White Rabbit," the album also featured the hit "Somebody to Love," which was written by Darby.
With Slick as their frontwoman, Jefferson Airplane appeared at many of the music festivals that defined the late 1960s, including Monterey in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. Slick's vibrant persona was admired by fans, and she quickly emerged as one of the most well-known personalities in rock during the 1960s.
Solo Career and Jefferson Starship
Offstage, Slick lived in the spirit of the era, engaging in drug experimentation and in romantic dalliances even before she and her husband officially split in 1971. She eventually got involved with Jefferson Airplane's rhythm guitarist and singer, Paul Kantner. The couple welcomed a child, daughter China, in December 1971. That same year, Slick released the album Sunfighter (1971), which she worked on with Kantner.
Slick struck out on her own with 1974's Manhole, but neither effort matched the success of Jefferson Airplane. Around this time, Slick and Kantner formed the group Jefferson Starship, which featured some of members of the Jefferson Airplane. The new entity enjoyed some success with 1975's Red Octopus, 1976's Spitfire and 1978's Earth.
In 1976, Slick married Skip Johnson, a lighting director who had worked with the group. She quit Jefferson Starship two years later, after their tour in Germany. After a brief stint in rehab from alcohol addiction, Slick returned to music with two solo efforts: Dreams (1980) and Welcome to the Wrecking Ball! (1981).
Within a few years, Slick rejoined Jefferson Starship, which had taken on a more mainstream rock sound. The group changed its name to Starship after Kantner's departure, and it enjoyed such popular hits as "We Built This City" and "Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now." Slick briefly retired from performing in 1988 before reuniting with the original members of Jefferson Airplane the following year. The group went on tour and produced one album together.
By the 1990s, Slick had given up performing. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, and she wrote about her rock 'n' roll experiences in her 1998 autobiography Somebody to Love? Finding another outlet for her creativity, Slick also began showing and selling her artwork.
In 2010, Slick released a new song, "The Edge of Madness," to benefit the fishermen affected by the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The charity single was co-written by Slick and Michelle Mangione and includes performances by more than 20 musicians and singers.
Divorced from Skip Johnson in 1994, Slick now lives in Malibu, California.
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