Sly Stone’s Daughters Share Memories of Funk Legend After Release of His New Memoir ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’

Early into Sly Stone’s memoir, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) — released this week (Oct. 17) — the music icon recalls collaborating with the late Billy Preston on the song “Advice” from the former’s 1966 solo album Wildest Organ in Town!

“Billy went hard on organ, churching it up, over lyrics about taking the crowd higher,” remembers Stone. “That’s what I wanted music to do, to elevate whoever heard it. I reminded myself to return to that attitude, and that altitude.”

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That same year, Stone made good on his promise when he brought together his brother/guitarist Freddie Stone, sister/keyboardist Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Gregg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini and bassist Larry Graham as the seminal rock/funk band Sly and the Family Stone. Together with author Ben Greenman, Stone — born Sylvester Stewart — chronicles his journey from gospel choir and doo-wop singer, record producer and radio DJ (San Francisco R&B station KSOL) to front man/creative guru of the racially and gender-diverse band whose game-changing musical vision has influenced multiple generations of artists, such as Prince, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu.

Named after one of the band’s many hits, a lengthy list that includes “Everyday People,” “Sing a Simple Song,” “Dance to the Music” and “I Want to Take You Higher,” the memoir is the first title from AUWA Books, an imprint with MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux launched by Questlove who also penned the foreword.

Beyond reflections on the band’s music, Stone takes a no-holds-barred approach to the memoir as he tracks the other ups and downs throughout his storied life from his and Kathy Silva’s famous 1974 wedding and concert at Madison Square Garden (“$8.50 for a wedding and a concert both. A bargain.”) and the birth of his beloved son Sylvester Jr. and daughters Phunne and Novena to various business ventures and finally overcoming his drug addiction. Stone, now 80 and suffering from COPD, writes, “Then came the Four Visits. Fifty years of drugs, plus age, plus stress, made the hospital a regular stop.” His stream of consciousness recall of life experiences, coupled with colorful turns of phrase, makes Thank You a fun and insightful read.

Sly Stone (right) with Kathy Silva and Freddie Stone.
Sly Stone (right) with Kathy Silva and Freddie Stone.

Speaking of his children, the three don’t fall far from the tree. Sylvester Jr. does lighting design for film and television, while Phunne continues her late mom Cynthia’s legacy as a member of the band Family Stone with Jerry Martini and Novena hosts the radio show “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on KCRW in Los Angeles. Both daughters shared memories of their dad during a recent phone interview with Billboard.

What’s one of your favorite memories of being with your dad?

Novena: I didn’t get to see my dad a whole lot growing up. But one day, when I was around eight years old, he picked me up in his cool car and he got me a Game Boy — which I really wanted — and some video games to go with it. Then we went to a magic store because he was really into magic stuff too. And he got me this magic penny thing, which was really cool. So we were kind of like being kids together. After that, we went to a boxing match, which was really random. But it actually was really smart that he got me the Game Boy first, because I just played with my Game Boy while he enjoyed the boxing match.

Phunne: I’m going to fast forward to when I was a little older, early 30s. I’d come to town to visit him. He picked me up in his van and he’s just driving and driving. I’m on crutches because I’d just had a surgery on my ankle. So I’m ready to go and put my foot up. I’m like, “Where are we going?” And he says, “Don’t worry about it…” And he’s dressed all weird in a black vest, no shirt, boxing shorts, boxing shoes and this Shirley Temple wig. I was confused. [Laughs.]

It took us probably 45 minutes to get through traffic. But we’re in a residential area up in the hills. We park and all these people start rushing to the van. I’m like, “What is this, dad?” And he says [mimicking Stone’s voice], “We’re at Eddie Murphy’s house. We’re going to watch the fight.” [Both sisters laugh.] And we sat next to Louis Farrakhan. I met a lot of people and bumped into a lot of people because of my crutches. That was a very interesting and fun day.

When did you understand that your dad was Sly Stone?

Phunne: I was fairly young, four or five. I can remember being at a show. I think Bootsy Collins was opening that for my dad. And mom had to go back to the hotel and grab something. She never left me with people. But she left me with Jerry Martini. So I was having a fit, because I want my mommy. So finally the show begins and Bootsy Collins is on stage. I’m on stage left behind the curtains. But I can see all the way across to stage right and I see my mom is back. I’m screaming “Mommy, mommy,” but the music is loud. But I could see her saying, “Noooooo.” But I just shot across the stage, zigzagging around the dancers. So I knew then that [he] was big, given all the people there.

Novena: For me, it was more so connected to having his albums at home. It was mostly me and my mom spending a lot of time at home in Sausalito (Calif.) And because she loves music, the centerpiece of the living room was pretty much the record player, [with] albums by like Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Stevie Wonder and then Sly & the Family Stone. I always remember knowing that [those wore] my dad’s records. And maybe actually a little earlier too. I have like a faint memory of being in a limousine with him and my mom — and you know, limousines aren’t a normal way to travel. So I was like, “This is special; he’s important.” You start piecing things together little by little.

Sly Stone photographed in 2021.
Sly Stone photographed in 2021.

Is there a surprising revelation in the book that you didn’t know beforehand?

Novena: I feel like the conversations that I have with him haven’t been really long and detailed. It will usually be a quick answer. Then that’s it. So it was cool for me to see what felt like him sitting down and talking for a really long time, and telling stories back to back to back. He has a way with words. I don’t know if “surprise” is the right word. But it just struck me a something that I don’t really get to experience, as far as like a vibe.

Also interesting is his version of how he met my mom, which was different than what she told me. It was just a sample of how different people have different memories of how something went down or add different things to it. That’s an overall theme of the book, which he keeps bringing up: A memory is not necessarily like the truth. It’s like a story. And everybody has different stories, depending on how they look at things.

Phunne: I just started reading it, because I’ve been super busy. But I was there during a lot of the interviews done for the book. And I’ve heard a lot of those stories over the years, through my mom and other band members. So I was already shocked. I haven’t been shocked again yet. [Both laugh.]

Do you have a favorite Sly song?

Phunne: I always say “Thank You…” That’s one of my go-to songs and brings me back to my childhood. We played that a lot in the house. But “I’m a Poet” is one of my favorites too.

Novena: The music is way too good for me to pick one favorite. I can tell you my favorite line in a song. It’s from “In Time,” which is on the Fresh album. And the song plays with the concept of time. When he says the word procrastinating in the line, he says “procrasti” [she pauses] then “nating.” So he procrastinated on saying the word procrastinating, which, I’m always in my head, saying, “Whoa, that is so cool.”

What would you like readers to take away about your dad’s legacy?

Novena: As far as Sly and the Family Stone’s music legacy, the most important thing to me is: How does it make you feel? I think part of the reason that he wrote the book is to tell his story from his perspective and clear a lot of things up. But today, as more and more people learn about the band’s music for the first time, the root of the music is an important takeaway: what they did as a band and how does that make you feel?

Phunne: A lot of people like to [make a superhero out of] my dad. But I want people to also take away that he is just a man, flesh and blood, and he ain’t perfect. I know the music felt perfect. But he’s just a simple human being.

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