Camille Sledge is certainly a mover and a shaker in the Arizona community. A lifelong singer and musician, she was voted "Best Female Vocalist" by Phoenix New Times in 2016, and has been the lead singer of local Valley powerhouse Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra for almost half a decade. We think it's fair to say she has been putting in her time.
Sledge was born in Ithaca in upstate New York. She lived there for a brief stint while her dad was working on his degree at Cornell University, and when he graduated, the family moved to Philadelphia, the city she truly calls her hometown. As far back as she can remember, she always wanted to be a singer and performer, inspired by her travels and experiences with her mother, Sister Sledge co-founder Debbie Sledge.
Instead of instantly working with Camille to pursue her dreams as a singer, Debbie gave her a copy of Donald Passman's All I Need to Know About the Music, a collegiate-level textbook, and told her to read that before doing anything else. Camille was 7 years old, thought the book was boring and dry, and fell asleep reading it on the regular. However, her mom noticed her taking it seriously, doing all the work and taking the proper steps, and the passion began to blossom.
As a teenager, Camille started taking formal lessons, and sang with choirs and anyone she could. She was trying to find her own identity in music, especially since she started to become known as the "Sledge daughter" due to her mom's music career. Her go-to vibe for music during her formative teenage years was hip-hop. She even asked her mom to be her manager when she started making her own songs, but her mom didn't feel she was qualified.
Eventually Sledge went off to college at the University of Pennsylvania, playing in all types of genres of bands, and even singing in a wedding cover band to make money. After school, she moved back to Philadelphia, but that didn't last long as she had her sights set on New York City. She landed in the upper west side of the Big Apple in 2005, and continued to play in all types of bands and genres. Eventually she was exposed in depth to Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. She would go to a small, hole-in-the-wall type of joint, and hang with the owner. He was from Nigeria, and exposed her to even deeper cuts of Fela and Afrobeat in general. She credits this time as a major influence on her musical existence today.
Camille, and her husband, William, decided to move to Phoenix in 2012, and it was here she found an even deeper fold of life in music, especially in music education. She joined PAO as the lead singer in 2014, and became more immersed in the local culture. She and her husband started a nonprofit called School of Hip Hop PHX as a way to give back to the community and keep the music coming full circle.
School of Hip Hop PHX is hosting a weeklong "Jazz and Hip Hop Camp" free of charge to Phoenix's youth, ages 10 to 19, at The Nash from July 30 to August 3, with a few slots still open to the public. And the program attendees will perform what they worked on during their workshops live on August 4, opening for PAO at Valley Bar. With all of this happening, and with her busy travel and performance schedule, New Times was able to squeeze in some words via phone and email with Camille about her microphone, School of Hip Hop PHX, and how she has made her own way.
New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Camille Sledge: I don't know about any secret weapons. but I definitely try to be myself no matter the genre or the sound. I hope to have integrity with each project as an artist.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
My microphone was always a Shure 32A, just the standard. I like cords. I like old-school.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
My mic was a gift from Shure. [It was] my very first sponsorship.
Just checked out A. Monae's video produced by School of Hip Hip PHX. Great track, love all the elements. Can you talk about the process behind the collaboration of this release?
The students at School of Hip Hop all have the opportunity and the invitation to come to us for mentorship, help and guidance. This girl had some dope rhymes, and she wanted to record them, so we set her up with all the tools she needed, and let her pick a track and write to it. When she was done, we explained that she should put it out. She plays chess and wanted it to be done as a master chess match in which she beat several competitors at once. Brilliant idea. Girl Power! Let's go!
You had said your mom had made it tough on you wanting to get into the music business, that she wanted you to know the business prior to really dedicating your life to it. You had also said that you were thankful for the way you learned, and now try and instill the same values into students at School of Hip Hop PHX. Can you expand upon the impact your mom had, and how that shapes the way you run your program today?
I feel the youth need to know that everything will not be handed to you on a silver platter. Even in music and the arts, you have to work hard at everything you do for success to be achieved. I once read a quote: “You have the same number of hours in your day as Beyonce.”
Arizona School of Hip Hop has a free youth camp coming up from July 30 to August 3. And the students from the camp will also be culminating the week by opening for PAO at Valley Bar on Saturday, August 4. Any words you wish to share with readers about to how to get the youth signed up, how volunteers can get involved, or about the show?
The youth will learn to use their own skills to their own advantage. Hip-hop is an American form of music that comes out of a struggle, such as jazz. They will learn to play instruments, vocalize their ideas through art, and improvise with a group of their peers during the camp. It's a wonderful experience for all involved, even if just for the amazing free lunch provided by local restaurants in the downtown area! Sign up today, as there are limited spaces still available. The link is on our website under the events tab.