A Family Affair — for 23,000 — Sly Stone’s Wedding

Original Publication: Newsweek – June 17, 1974

Sly (Superfly) Stone has always been the badass of the rock world. His wedding last week to 21-year-old Kathy Silva, on the stage of New York’s Madison Square Garden before 23,000 screaming freaks, can be viewed three ways: the latest ploy for selling out the Garden, another small step in the decline of Western civilization, or the ultimate hustle of a shrewd black pop star embraced by the beautiful people for a mutual purpose—to hype the media.

Sieges have been launched with less preparation than Sly’s wedding. Halston, fashion’s darling, best known for classic cashmere sweater sets and shirtwaists, tried his hand at glitter and dressed the bridal party in what he described as “3-D sequins.” He’s better at shirtwaists. Artist and set designer Joe Eula directed the wedding. He had planned a more “golden affair” but was beset by problems at the last minute. Security guards wouldn’t let Sly and his bride march down the aisle. The humane society called and said they’d arrest Eula if he released 500 white doves in the Garden; black actress-model Donyale Luna wanted to wear big white wings and fly like Tinker Bell across the arena, dropping gold glitter on the crowd below, but she didn’t do it because authorities demanded a $125,000 security bond. And Tom Donahue, the 400-pound disk jockey who was originally supposed to perform the ceremony, had to bow out because he wasn’t ordained in New York State.

            So Bishop B.R. Stewart, pastor of the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ of San Francisco, Sly’s hometown, filled in instead. He has known Sly for twenty of his 30 years, ever since Sly was a member of YPWW, Young People’s Willing Workers, and had played and sung with his mother in church. All of Sly’s band plus his vivacious parents, Mr. and Mrs. K.C. Steward, and most of his relatives were also on hand. Like the title of one of his greatest hits, the wedding was billed as a “family affair.”

But it was more than that. Sly Stone, whose real name is Sylvester Stewart, is one of the shrewdest and highest-paid talents in the pop world. He commands a cool $1 million for each album he delivers. The trick is to get him to deliver. In the past few years Sly became a notorious no-show and most promoters refused to book him; the few who did demanded a cash guarantee. All that is changed now. Sly no longer misses concerts and he’s found three people he trusts: Turu, his gentle Japanese judo instructor and bodyguard; Stephen Paley of Columbia Records, who handled the wedding arrangements through his chic connections, and Ken Roberts, his new manager, who tries to keep Sly’s nose relatively clean.

            Extremes: The real reason for his marriage, said Sly, was to legitimize his and Kathy’s nine-month-old son, Sylvester Bubba Ali Stewart Jr. “I’ll still be single” he declared. “I’m no Dick Van Dyke. I’m not gonna have a white house and picket fence. But I have a little boy now and I don’t want him to be a liar when he says Da-da.” Sly’s bride takes a somewhat different view. The beautiful Mexican-Filipino-Hawaiian actress, who last appeared in “Soylent Green”—“as a piece of furniture”—says : “When you are as much in love as Sly and I are you just go to extremes and get married.”

            Sly was originally supposed to do it a month ago in Hawaii. Kathy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Silva, flew in and the wedding luau was prepared. Sly, however, canceled at the very last minute. Last week he did show, although he made the bride wait several minutes at their matching microphones. She was preceded by a stunning procession of elegant black models dressed in elegant black Halstons waving gold palm fronds. At first Sly didn’t repeat his vows, but after prompting from the preacher he mumbled, “I do.”

            Brisk: The concert that followed showed Sly’s lack of preparation with his band, the Family Stone, although his faithful fans shrieked and danced the whole time. Sly played his hits briskly and, without an encore, left in his brand-new $38,000 brown Mercedes limo, one of a dozen cars he owns. The $25,000 reception, courtesy of Columbia Records, at the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf-Astoria, ranged from far outré to hopelessly jive and barely alive. It featured both a sumptuous Japanese buffet and last decade’s leftovers like Baby Jane Holzer. Also present was the second generation of radical chic—Leonard Bernstein’s daughter Jamie plus Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft, and that all-American boy Lance Loud, of the TV family. Lance’s mentor, Andy Warhol, pronounced it “a fun party.”

Designer Halston, Wendy Stark, Andy Warhol and Lance Loud at Waldorf-Astoria reception. Photo by Lawrence Fried

            Sly and Kathy arrived at 1:30 and amusedly watched the antics of the high-fashion decadents from a balcony about it all. When it was time to cut their six-tiered cake topped by a gold record, the only witnesses to the event were the crush of uninvited paparazzi. The bride’s radiant smile began to dim, and around 3 a.m. Mrs. Silva walked down the stairs, eyed the crowd and plunged in. “Come on,” she said to her husband. “I want to dance at least one dance at my daughter’s wedding.”

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