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Sylvester (1947 - 1988)


Sylvester (b. Sylvester James, September 6, 1947 in Los Angeles, California d. December 16, 1988 in San Francisco, California) was a gay black disco and soul musician and drag performer. His grandmother was the jazz singer Julia Morgan.

Living in San Francisco in the 1960s, he performed in a musical production called "Women of the Blues", then joined a short-lived group of transvestite performance artists called the Cockettes in the early '70. Famed transvestite Divine was a member of the group as well. Sylvester can be seen in the Cockettes' outrageous short film "Tricia's Wedding," lampooning the wedding of President Nixon's daughter Tricia, and an eponymous 2002 documentary about the group.

After a less-than-successful stint with the Hot Band, Sylvester met his frequent collaborator Patrick Cowley in 1978. Cowley's synthesizer and Sylvester's voice proved to be a magical combination. Openly gay and often singing in falsetto, despite a rich baritone voice, Sylvester's hits included "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," "Do You Wanna Funk" and "Dance (Disco Heat)". He is considered one of the first Hi-NRG artists, and subsequent hits were backed by the Two Tons of Fun, (future) Weather Girls Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes.

1979 brought three Billboard awards and an appearance in the movie, The Rose.

Sylvester died of complications from AIDS on December 16, 1988. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester_James [Feb 2005]


What hasn't already been said about Sylvester? Or about his fabulously talented sidekicks on "Dance (Disco Heat)," Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes? As Sylvester put it himself on his emotionally charged Living Proof concert album: "Your ear has got to be in your foot for you to not know that these women can sing, y'all!" The precedent-shattering synthesizer work here by Patrick Cowley set the stage for the Hi-NRG and house styles that emerged in the '80s, and Sylvester's deep-down generosity and emotionalism is part of the very definition of divaism. -- Brian Chin

Electronic Dance

The idea of electronic dance music was in the air from 1977 on. Released as disco 12" records in the U.S., cuts like "Trans-Europe Express" and "The Robots" coincided with Giorgio Moroder's electronic productions for Donna Summer, especially "I Feel Love." This in turn had a huge influence on Patrick Cowley's late '70s productions for Sylvester: synth cuts like "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" and "Stars" were the start of gay disco. Before he died in 1982, Cowley made his own synthetic disco record, the dystopian "Mind Warp." -- Jon Savage

Patrick Cowley [...]

His greatest achievement would be Step II. As the LP was being recorded, Sylvester let Patrick Cowley, then an up and coming remixer, hear an early version of "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real." Cowley's synth overlays transformed the former ballad into a disco tour de force. The driving beat and keyboard flourishes reflected the intensity of gay disco at its best, while Sylvester's impassioned vocals communicated the anticipation of sex. Arriving at the height of discomania, the combination proved irresistable and much to the horror of disco haters and homophobes (who were largely one and the same), he was launched into the mainstream. The accompanying video made a mockery of Fuqua's attempts to tone down his flamboyance, as Sylvester strolled around a disco in full drag. -- http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Sylvester/Syl_Bio.html

Selected Discography

  • Megatone Records Sylvester 'Someone Like You' (1986?)? with Keith Haring sleeve, Larry Levan mix
  • Sylvester/ I Need You (Fantasy)
  • Sylvester - Over and Over (1977)

    Gay Disco


    Do Ya Wanna Funk (1982) Sylvester

    Do Ya Wanna Funk (1982) Sylvester [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    This cd which is released on the Canadian label Unidisc was originally released (on L.P.) on the Megatone label in 1982. Electronic synthesizer master Patrick Cowley (who died in the early 80's) was an innovator in this hi-nrg electronic sound (as was Giorgio Moroder in the 70's) and both Sylvester and Cowley make the perfect combination. Sylvester with his gospel high searing vocals and Cowley's melodic synthesizers. This cd includes all the hits (Do you wanna Funk, Don't Stop and Be with You) plus the remix versions, some of which were only available as import 12" records from Europe. The sound quality is nothing less than superb. If you enjoyed hi-nrg music from the 80's such as Miquel Brown, Hazel Dean, The Flirtations, Bobby O, Lime, etc. then you'll love this disc. Highly Recommended! -- barrycrist via Amazon.com

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