Sly Stone and Kathy Silva in their Halston wedding garb
The wedding ceremony of Sly Stone and Kathy Silva at Madison Square Garden on June 5, 1974, is one of the more peculiar pop culture extravaganzas I’m aware of, yet neither YouTube nor Google Images yield very much at all. At the time however, it was considered an event of some significance.
Rolling Stone dedicated a two-page spread to the event, and—this is utterly crazy—the normally staid and upper-middlebrow New Yorker ran a lengthy report (“A Reporter at Large”) by one of their most esteemed writers, George W.S. Trow, that spanned a whopping eleven pages. (Trow’s 1978 report Within the Context of No Context, which was published as a book in 1981, is considered by many to be one of the essential nonfiction accounts of the 1970s—I wasn’t so fond of it.) The title of Trow’s piece was “The Biggest Event This Year”—it has to have been meant at least a little ironically.
One of the astonishing aspects of the wedding was the remarkable rapidity with which it was conceived and planned. The wedding took place on June 5 and, according to Trow, the first inkling of throwing such an event occurred no earlier than May 3. This may in part account for the curious lack of echo the wedding would have. The initial impulse may have been partly romantic, but throwing a wedding at Madison Square Garden is a calculated PR move no matter who’s doing it, and the inescapably commercial nature of the event ... well, induced almost everybody to think of the nuptials in precisely that way. Accounts of the event don’t feel dramatically different from any random night at Studio 54 in the years to come, albeit far more expensive to stage. (Indeed, even Stone himself may have thought of the wedding as a kind of Hail Mary pass for his musical career. In retrospect the wedding was something like Sly’s last hurrah, and the marriage fell apart in 1976.)
Trow’s account focuses almost entirely on the corporate planning that is integral to such an event. Keeping the eye squarely on the unavoidable logistical machinations required, it’s as much about Stone’s handler at Epic Records, a man named Stephen Paley, as anyone else. The article is well written in the usual New Yorker way but almost entirely devoid of drama; we hear about discussions of the “black angel” that Madison Square Garden would not permit to be flown over the ceremony, the necessary expense of security, the possibility of a laser light show display in the colors of gold and pink, the cost of using the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria for the reception, the tailoring of the splendid gold outfits by Halston himself, and so on. Sly is acting erratically, missing appointments and so forth, and we hear a whole lot about the vast sums of money he’s spending. Trow signals both the implicit exploitation of a young, vital black artist as well as the possibility of that same artist’s potential decline, but nobody could see then what is apparent now, which is that Sly Stone’s days as a world-class superstar were on the very brink of ending altogether.
In truth, the Rolling Stone account is briefer, less pretentious, and a little bit superior. We get to see a pic of the invitation, which is in script writing and is perfectly traditional:
You are invited to a golden affair,
the wedding of
at Madison Square Garden
on Wednesday night the fifth of June,
followed by the concert of
Sly and the Family Stone.
And to the reception immediately following at
the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf Astoria,
49th Street at Park Avenue.
Kindly respond by Friday, May 31, 1974.
Wear something gold.
Geraldo Rivera, then of ABC “Eyewitness News,” somehow insinuated himself onto the stage during the ceremony, so that he could file a report as “the Eyewitness Usher.” Andy Warhol was there but left right after the ceremony; he, Rivera, Edgar Winter, Mia Farrow, and a host of others would be at the reception.
Bishop B.R. Stewart, the gentleman who officiated the event (according to Rolling Stone a Pentecostal minister from the San Francisco church Sly attended as a child) was apparently not registered at the City Clerk’s office, necessitating Stewart, a Californian, to return to New York and get registered, thus making the marriage official.