Behind the Band Name: Sly and the Family Stone

Born in San Francisco, California, Sly and the Family Stone became one of the biggest funk and soul bands of the 20th century. Active from 1966 to 1983, the group was fronted by the standout Sly Stone. But the band also included his guitar-playing brother Freddie Stone, keyboard-playing sister Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Greg Errico, saxophone player Jerry Martini and bass player Larry Graham.

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The group also has the distinction of being the first major American rock group to have a racially integrated lineup. But beyond all that, what is the history of the group’s name?

Early Commercial Beginnings

Formed in 1966, the band brought together family and friends just as it did several genres to create its indelible sound.

Sly and the Family Stone released hit songs like “Dance to the Music” and “Everyday People” in 1968 and, a year later, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).” Later, the group released darker, slightly more brooding material, which was just as influential as its early funk, with albums like Fresh in 1973.

Early Band Names

The group’s frontman Sylvester Stewart was born in Dallas, Texas. His family encouraged musical endeavors in the household and sang at church. Later, the family moved to California and the four youngest of the five kids—Sylvester, Freddie, Rose and Vaetta—formed a group called The Stewart Four. Together, they released the singles “On the Battlefield of the Lord” along with the song “Walking in Jesus’ Name” in 1952.

In high school, Sylvester and Freddie joined student-led bands. Sylvester played in the doo-wop project, The Viscaynes, which released several more local singles. Sylvester also recorded singles under the name Danny Stewart.

Sly Stone is Born

Sylvester changed his name to Sly Stone by 1964 and he was then working as a disc jockey for the San Mateo R&B radio station, KSOL. On his show, he included white bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Simultaneously, he also produced music for Autumn Records, working with Bay Area bands like The Beau Brummels and The Mojo Men. He also produced the Bobby Freeman song “C’mon and Swim,” which earned national attention. But at the time Sly’s own solo singles at the time were not gaining traction.

Sly & the Stoners

Two years later, in 1966, Sly Stone formed a new band called Sly & the Stoners. This project included Robinson on trumpet. Also around this time, Freddie founded a group called Freddie & the Stone Souls, which included Errico on drums and Crawford on saxophone.

Then a friend suggested Sly and Freddie combine their projects. This led to the first lineup of Sly and the Family Stone in November of 1966. At first, the group was called Sly Brothers and Sisters. But after the band’s first gig at the Winchester Cathedral, which was a nightclub in Redwood City, California, they changed their name finally to Sly and the Family Stone.

Freddie became the official guitarist and Sly learned the electric organ. Robinson’s cousin Larry Graham played bass. And later, Sly recruited his sister Vaetta and her friends, Mary McCreary and Elva Mouton, to be the group’s backup singers known as Little Sister. The collection was soon signed to CBS Records and the group released its first album, A Whole New Thing, in 1967 to critical acclaim.

The End

As with many prominent acts of the time, the progress of the group slowed due to drugs.

By 1975, the group experienced infighting and internal clashes, along with drug use. The act disbanded in 1987 when Sly retired after touring with rotating members. But that didn’t happen before Sly and the Family Stone could release influential music and inspire many more bands in its wake.

In 2010, Sly and the Family Stone was ranked No. 43 in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list and three of the band’s albums landed on the outlet’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Sly and the Family Stone was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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