IN MEMORIAM: Don Warden, Joni Sledge and Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths
Don Warden (March 27, 1929 – March 11, 2017) was an American country musician and manager best known for his years on The Porter Wagoner Show and as the manager of Wagoner and Dolly Parton.
Born to Reverend and Mrs. Charles Warden in Mt. Grove, Missouri, Warden grew up singing in church. A self-taught player, he was influenced by Leon McAuliffe with Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys. Warden formed his own band during high school, The Rhythm Rangers, playing steel guitar and singing. He also had an afternoon radio show on KWPM-AM in West Plains, Missouri. The band gained popularity, moving on to Kennett, Missouri’s KBOA-AM and KHWN-AM in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and gigs in East Texas honky tonks; eventually leading to Louisiana Hayride, backing The Wilburn Brothers and Red Sovine. Warden left the show in 1951 for a two-year stint with the US Army.
Returning to the Hayride after the Army, the Rhythm Rangers continued to back Red Sovine until Sovine left to join the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, leaving his band behind. Warden moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended flight school and played local clubs in his spare time.
While visiting his parents in West Plains, Warden met Porter Wagoner at KWTO-AM in Springfield, Missouri. With Speedy Haworth, they formed the Porter Wagoner Trio and were regulars on ABC television’s Ozark Jubilee broadcast from Springfield. In 1957, Warden joined the Grand Ole Opry with Wagoner, and in 1960 began a 14-year television run on the syndicated program, The Porter Wagoner Show.
In 1966, singer Dolly Parton joined the show and Wagoner and Parton, backed by the Wagonmasters, became one of country music’s most popular duos. Parton left the show in 1974 to pursue a solo career, and Warden joined her as her full-time manager, a job he held until his death.
Warden was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2008.
Warden had been in failing health and died on March 11, 2017, sixteen days before his 88th birthday.
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From Dolly Parton:
“I’ve known and loved Don Warden since I joined The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967. He was like a father, a brother, a partner and one of my best friends. I feel like a piece of my heart is missing today. Certainly a huge piece of my life is gone. Rest in peace Don and know for sure that I will always love you.”
“Anybody who knows him – and he knows everybody – looks up to him. At one time there was even a T-shirt being sold around Nashville that read ‘I KNOW DON WARDEN.’ People are still calling me and asking, ‘How can I get one of those Don Warden T-shirts?’ Sometimes it feels like people are only using me to get to Don.”
JOAN ELISE SLEDGE, a/k/a JONI SLEDGE
Joan Elise Sledge (September 13, 1956 – March 10, 2017, better known as Joni Sledge, was an American singer–songwriter and producer. Sledge was best known as a founding member of the American family vocal group Sister Sledge.
Sledge was born the third of five daughters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Edwin Sledge, a tap dancer, and his actress wife, Florez (née Williams). Described as a warm extrovert, Sledge attended Olney High School; graduating in 1974. Sledge majored in communications while in college at Temple University. Sledge performed the song “Then Came You” with the Spinners on the television music show The Midnight Special in 1975.
In addition to singing, Sledge was also a songwriter and producer; writing and producing the song “Brother, Brother Stop” for a Sister Sledge greatest hits album in 1996. Sledge’s production of their album African Eyes which was released in 1997 was nominated for a best–production Grammy.
Sledge had one son, Thaddeus. Sledge was found dead by a friend at her home on March 11, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona, She was 60 years old. Her death was originally considered [suspicious] due to unknown circumstances as she didn’t have any known illnesses, according to close family sources. On March 14, 2017, Sledge’s cause of death was ruled “natural causes”.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths… March 2017
14: Ileana Ciuculete (ro), 59, Romanian folklore singer, cirrhosis.
13: Maxx Kidd, 75, American singer, producer and go-go music pioneer; John Lever, 55, British drummer (The Chameleons); Tommy LiPuma, 80, American music producer (Barbra Streisand).
12: Joey Alves, 63, American guitarist (Y&T), complications from ulcerative colitis.
11: Evan Johns, 60, American guitarist (The LeRoi Brothers), complications from surgery; Ángel Parra, 73, Chilean singer and songwriter, lung cancer; Don Warden, 87, American country musician and manager (Dolly Parton).
10: Gido Kokars, 95, Latvian conductor; Joni Sledge, 60, American singer (Sister Sledge).
9: Barbara Helsingius, 79, Finnish singer, poet and Olympic fencer (1960); Tony Lorenzo, 30, American guitarist (Sons of Azrael).
8: Dmitry Mezhevich, 76, Russian actor and songwriter; Jonathan Strasser, 70, American violinist and conductor (Fame); Dave Valentin, 64, American jazz flautist, Parkinson’s disease.
7: Kamran Aziz, 85, Turkish Cypriot musician and pharmacist, pulmonary complications; Kalika Prasad Bhattacharya, 56, Indian folk singer, traffic collision; Francis Thorne, 94, American composer.