Grace Barnett Wing was born October 30, 1939, in Highland Park, Illinois, to Ivan W. Wing (1907–1987), of Norwegian and Swedish descent, and Virginia (née Barnett; 1910–1984), a lineal descendant of passengers of the Mayflower. Her parents met while they were both students at the University of Washington, and later married. In 1949, her brother Chris was born. Her father, working in the investment banking sector for Weeden and Company, was transferred several times when she was a child, and in addition to the Chicago area, she lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco, before her family finally settled in Palo Alto, California, south of San Francisco, in the early 1950s.
Wing attended Palo Alto Senior High School before switching to Castilleja High School, a private all-girls school in Palo Alto. Following graduation, she attended Finch College in New York City from 1957 to 1958, and the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, from 1958 to 1959. On August 26, 1961, Wing married Gerald "Jerry" Slick, an aspiring filmmaker, and after the couple briefly moved away from San Francisco, Grace Slick worked as a model at an I. Magnin department store for three years. Slick also started composing music, including a contribution to a short film by Jerry Slick.
In August 1965, Slick read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the newly formed Jefferson Airplane. Despite being situated in the growing musical center of San Francisco, Slick only half-heartedly considered it for a profession until she watched the band live at The Matrix. As a result, Slick (vocals, guitar), accompanied by husband Jerry Slick (drums), Jerry's brother Darby Slick (lead guitar), and David Miner (bass guitar) formed a group called the Great Society, a play on the social reform program of the same name. On October 15, 1965, the band made its debut performance at a venue known as the Coffee Gallery, and soon after Slick composed the psychedelic piece "White Rabbit". The song, which she is purported to have written in an hour, is a reflection on the hallucinatory effects of psychedelic drugs; when performed live, it featured a speedier tempo and was an instant favorite among the band's followers. Although Slick was an equal contributor to the Great Society's original material, Darby Slick pushed the band toward becoming a raga-influenced psychedelic act. By late 1965, they had become a popular attraction in the Bay Area. Between October and December 1965, the Great Society entered Golden Studios and recorded several tracks under the supervision of Sylvester Stewart. One single emerged from the demos, the Darby Slick-penned "Someone to Love" b/w "Free Advice" on the locally based Autumn Records subsidiary label "North Beach". Grace Slick supplied vocals, guitar, piano, and recorder.
That autumn, Jefferson Airplane's singer Signe Toly Anderson left the band to raise her child, and Jack Casady asked Slick to join them. Slick stated that she joined the Airplane because it was run in a professional manner, unlike the Great Society. With Slick on board, the Airplane began recording new music, and they turned in a more psychedelic direction from their former folk-rock style. Surrealistic Pillow included new recordings of "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love", both of which became top 10 singles. Jefferson Airplane became one of the most popular bands in the country and earned Slick a position as one of the most prominent female rock musicians of her time. In 1968, Slick performed "Crown of Creation" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in blackface and ended the performance with a Black Panther fist. In an appearance on a 1969 episode of the Dick Cavett Show, she became the first person to say "motherfucker" on television during a performance of "We Can Be Together".
After Jefferson Airplane ended, Slick formed Jefferson Starship with Kantner and other bandmates, and also began a string of solo albums with Manhole, followed by Dreams, Welcome to the Wrecking Ball!, and Software. Manhole also featured keyboardist/bassist Pete Sears, who later joined the original Jefferson Starship in 1974. Sears and Slick penned several early Jefferson Starship songs together, including "Hyperdrive" and "Play On Love". Dreams, which was produced by Ron Frangipane and incorporated many of the ideas she encountered attending 12-step program meetings, is the most personal of her solo albums and was nominated for a Grammy Award. The song "Do It the Hard Way" from Dreams is one example of Slick's music at the time.
Slick was nicknamed "The Chrome Nun" by David Crosby, who also used the nickname "Baron von Tollbooth" for Kantner. Their nicknames appear as the title of an album she made with bandmates Kantner and David Freiberg: Baron von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun.
During the 1980s, while Slick was the only former Jefferson Airplane member in Starship, the band went on to score three chart-topping successes with "We Built This City", "Sara", and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now". Despite the success, Slick since has spoken negatively about the experience and the music. In 1987, Slick co-hosted The Legendary Ladies of Rock & Roll, for which she also sang backing vocals on "Be My Baby" & "Da Doo Ron Ron". She left Starship in 1988, shortly after the release of No Protection. In 1989, Slick and her former Jefferson Airplane band members reformed the group, released a reunion album, and made a successful tour.
Following the Jefferson Airplane reunion, Slick retired from the music business. During a 1998 interview with VH1 on a Behind the Music documentary featuring Jefferson Airplane, Slick, who was never shy about the idea of getting old, said that the main reason she retired from the music business was, "All rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire." In a 2007 interview, she repeated her belief that, "You can do jazz, classical, blues, opera, country until you're 150, but rap and rock and roll are really a way for young people to get that anger out", and, "It's silly to perform a song that has no relevance to the present or expresses feelings you no longer have."
Despite her retirement, Slick has appeared twice with Kantner's revamped version of Jefferson Starship; the first came in 1995 when the band played at Los Angeles's House of Blues, as documented on the live album Deep Space/Virgin Sky. The second was for a post-9/11 gig in late 2001, during which she came on the stage initially covered in black from head to toe in a makeshift burqa. She then removed the burqa to reveal a covering bearing an American flag and the words "Fuck Fear". Her statement to fans on the outfit was: "The outfit is not about Islam, it's about oppression; this flag is not about politics, it's about liberty."
After retiring from music, Slick began painting and drawing. She has done many renditions of her fellow 1960s musicians, such as Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and others. In 2000, she began displaying and selling her artwork. She attends many of her art shows across the United States. She has generally refrained from engaging in the music business, although she did perform on "Knock Me Out", a track from In Flight, the 1996 solo debut from former 4 Non Blondes singer, and friend of daughter China, Linda Perry. The song was also on the soundtrack to the film The Crow: City of Angels.
Slick released her autobiography, Somebody to Love? A Rock and Roll Memoir, in 1998 and narrated an abridged version of the book as an audiobook. A biography, Grace Slick, The Biography, by Barbara Rowes, was released in 1980 and is currently out of print. In a 2001 USA Today article, Slick said, "I'm in good health and people want to know what I do to be this way ... I don't eat cheese, I don't eat duck—the point is I'm vegan." However, she admitted she's "not strict vegan, because I'm a hedonist pig. If I see a big chocolate cake that is made with eggs, I'll have it."
In 2006, Slick suffered from diverticulitis. After initial surgery, she had a relapse requiring further surgery and a tracheotomy. She was placed in an induced coma for two months and then had to learn to walk again. Also in 2006, Slick gave a speech at the inauguration of the new Virgin America airline, which named their first aircraft Jefferson Airplane. In 2010, Slick co-wrote Edge of Madness with singer Michelle Mangione to raise money for remediation efforts following the BP Oil Spill. Grace also sang background vocals on the song and is clearly audible in the middle of the song singing, "On the edge of madness."
Slick has been married twice—to Gerald "Jerry" Slick, a cinematographer, from 1961 to 1971, then to Skip Johnson, a Jefferson Starship lighting designer, from 1976 to 1994. She has one child—a daughter, China Wing Kantner (born January 25, 1971). China's father is the former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner, with whom Slick had a relationship from 1969 to 1975.
During her hospital stay after China's birth, Slick joked to one of the attending nurses that she intended to name the child "god" with a lowercase g, as she "wished for the child to be humble." The nurse took Slick seriously, and her report of the incident caused a minor stir, as well as the creation of a rock-and-roll urban legend.
Slick publicly has acknowledged her alcoholism, discussed her rehabilitation experiences, and commented on her use of LSD, marijuana, and other substances in her autobiography, various interviews, and several celebrity addiction and recovery books, including The Courage to Change by Dennis Wholey and The Harder They Fall by Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill. During Jefferson Starship's 1978 European tour, Slick's alcoholism became a problem for the band. The group had to cancel the first night in Germany because she was too intoxicated to perform, causing the audience to riot. Slick performed the next night with the band, but was so inebriated she could not sing properly. She also attacked the audience, mocking Germany for losing World War II, and groping both female audience members and bandmates. The next day, she left the group. That same year, Slick was dragged off a San Francisco game show for abusing the contestants. She was admitted to a detoxification facility at least twice, once during the 1970s at Duffy's in Napa Valley, and once in the 1990s with daughter China.
Slick and Tricia Nixon, former President Richard Nixon's daughter, are alumnae of Finch College. Slick was invited to a tea party for the alumnae at the White House in 1969. She invited political activist Abbie Hoffman to be her escort and planned to spike President Richard Nixon's tea with 600 micrograms of LSD. The plan was thwarted when they were prevented from entering after being recognized by White House security personnel, as Slick had been placed on an FBI blacklist. Slick later speculated that she only received the invitation because it was addressed to "Grace Wing" (the singer's maiden name), and that she never would have been invited if the Nixons had known that "Grace Wing" was the antiestablishment singer Grace Slick.
In 1971, after a long recording session, Slick crashed her car into a wall near the Golden Gate Bridge while racing with Jorma Kaukonen. She suffered a concussion and later used the incident as the basis of her song "Never Argue with a German if You're Tired (or 'European Song')", which appears on the Bark album (1971).
While Slick had troubles with the law while performing as a part of Jefferson Airplane, she was arrested at least four times for what she has referred to as "TUI" ("talking under the influence") and "drunk mouth".
An incident occurred after an officer encountered her sitting against a tree trunk in the backwoods of Marin County drinking wine, eating bread, and reading poetry. When the officer asked what she was doing, she gave a sarcastic response as a result of which she was arrested and imprisoned.
The singer was also reportedly arrested in 1994 for assault with a deadly weapon after pointing an unloaded gun at a police officer. She alleged that the officer had come onto her property without explanation.
After retiring, and after a house fire, divorce, and breakup, Slick began drawing and painting animals, mainly to amuse herself and because doing so made her happy during a difficult period in her life. Soon thereafter, she was approached about writing her memoir, which ultimately became Somebody to Love? A Rock-and-Roll Memoir. Her agent saw her artwork and asked her to do some portraits of some of her various contemporaries from the rock-and-roll genre to be included in the autobiography. Hesitant at first (because she thought “it was way too cute. Rock-n-Roll draws Rock-n-Roll”), she eventually agreed because she found she enjoyed it, and color renditions of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia appeared in the completed autobiography. An “Alice in Wonderland”-themed painting and various other sketches are scattered throughout the book. Her paintings of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were used for the cover art of the album The Best of Hot Tuna. Though Slick has been drawing and painting since she was a child, she admits to not being able to multitask, so did not do much of it while she was focusing on her musical career. A notable exception is the cover art of her first solo album, Manhole, which she signed "Child Type Odd Art by Grace."
Slick is not bound by any specific style or medium in her production of visual art and has no interest in developing one. She uses acrylic paints (she says oil takes too long to dry), canvas, pen, ink, scratchboard, pastels, and pencil. Many of her works are mixed media. Her styles range from the children’s bookish “Alice in Wonderland” themes to the realism of the rock and roll portraits and scratchboards of animals to the minimalist ink wash styled nudes to a variety of other subjects and styles.
The best-selling prints and originals are her various renditions of the white rabbit and the portraits of her colleagues in the music industry. In 2006, the popularity of her “Alice in Wonderland” works led to a partnership with Dark Horse Comics, Inc. that resulted in the release of stationery and journals with the “Wonderland” motif.
While critics have variously panned and praised her work, Slick seems indifferent to the criticism. She views her visual artistry as just another extension of the artistic temperament that landed her in the music scene in the first place, as it allows her to continue to produce art in a way that does not require the physical demands of appearing on a stage nightly or traveling with a large group of people.
Slick attends many of her art gallery shows across the United States, sometimes attending over 30 shows in a year. While she says she enjoys talking with the people who come to her art shows, she is not a fan of the traveling involved, particularly the flying. At most of her art shows, those who purchase a piece of her art get a photo with Slick, an opportunity to chat, and a personalized autograph on the back of the piece that has been purchased.
Slick is one of the first female rock stars, alongside her close contemporary Janis Joplin, so an important figure in the development of rock music in the late 1960s. Her distinctive vocal style and striking stage presence exerted influence on other female performers, including Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith.
Slick's longevity in the music business helped her to earn a rather unusual distinction, the oldest female vocalist on a Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping single. "We Built This City" reached number one on November 16, 1985, shortly after her 46th birthday. The previous record was age 44 for Tina Turner, with 1984's number-one smash, What's Love Got To Do With It. Turner (who is one month younger than Slick) turned 45 two months after the song topped the charts. Slick broke her own record in April 1987 at age 47 when "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" topped the US charts. Her record stood for 12 years, but was ultimately broken by Cher, who was 53 in 1999 when "Believe" hit number one.
Slick did vocals for a piece known as "Jazz Numbers", a series of animated shorts about the numbers two through 10 (a number-one short was never made), which aired on Sesame Street. The segment for the number two appeared in the first episode of the first season of Sesame Street, November 10, 1969. She was nominated for a Grammy award in 1981 as Best Rock Female Vocalist for her solo album Dreams.
She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a member of Jefferson Airplane.
In 1993, she narrated the Stephen King short story "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band" on his Nightmares & Dreamscapes audiobook.
She was ranked number 20 on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll in 1999.
with Paul Kantner