Sylvester (singer)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Sylvester James (September 6, 1948December 16, 1988) was an African-American disco and soul musician, and a gay drag performer. He performed under only his first name, Sylvester. Known for singing in falsetto, he is also considered one of the first Hi-NRG artists. Sylvester was the first "male diva" of disco, his best-known tracks are the Patrick Cowley produced "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Do You Wanna Funk". Sylvester died of complications from AIDS aged 40.



Sylvester James was born in Los Angeles, California. Living in San Francisco in the 1970s, 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 1970s, his repertoire of Bessie Smith songs in tow. (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 in an eponymous 2002 documentary about the group.

In 1972, Sylvester supplied two cuts to Lights Out San Francisco, an album compiled by the KSAN radio station and released on the Blue Thumb label. In 1973, Sylvester & his Hot Band released two rock-oriented albums on Blue Thumb (their self-titled debut was also known as "Scratch My Flower," due to a gardenia-shaped scratch-and-sniff sticker adhered to the cover). Signed a solo act to Fantasy Records in 1977, and working with the production talents of legendary Motown producer Harvey Fuqua. Sylvester later alleged that Fuqua cheated him out of millions of dollars.

Sylvester soon met his frequent collaborator Patrick Cowley. Cowley's synthesizer and Sylvester's voice proved to be a magical combination, and pushed Sylvester's sound in an increasingly dance-oriented direction; his second solo album, Step II (1978), unleashed two disco classics: "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," and "Dance (Disco Heat)." By this time both his live shows and recordings also recognizably featured the back-up vocals of Two Tons O' Fun: future Weather Girls Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes. 1979 brought three Billboard awards and an appearance in the movie, The Rose, starring Bette Midler.

Moving to Megatone Records in 1982, Sylvester quickly landed a Hi-NRG classic with "Do You Wanna Funk." He was close friends with other Megatone artists Linda Imperial and Jeanie Tracy. Sylvester was also very close to the legendary Patti LaBelle.

Later pressure from the label to "butch up" his image would result in him attending meetings in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot, which he staged and presented to label heads as a gag (calling it his "new album cover") would later grace the cover of Immortal after Sylvester died; it was the label's way of paying tribute to his spirit. In 1985, one of his dreams came true as he was summoned to sing back-up for Aretha Franklin on her Who's Zoomin' Who comeback album. His sole Warner Bros. album was Mutual Attraction in 1986; a single from the album, "Someone Like You," featured original cover art by Keith Haring.

Sylvester died of complications from AIDS in San Francisco on December 16, 1988. He was 40 years old. His good friend Jeanie Tracy took care of Sylvester during his last days.

In the late 1990s, performance artist Djola Branner (co-founder of the highly influential Pomo Afro Homos troupe) created his acclaimed solo piece and CD Mighty Real around the life of Sylvester.

In 2005, a biography written by Joshua Gamson and titled The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, The Music, The 70s in San Francisco was published.



  • Sylvester & the Hot Band (performed by Sylvester & the Hot band; Blue Thumb, 1973)
  • Bazaar (performed by Sylvester & the Hot band; Blue Thumb, 1973)
  • Sylvester (Fantasy, 1977)
  • Step II (Fantasy, 1978)
  • Stars (Fantasy, 1979)
  • Living Proof (double LP, recorded live; Fantasy, 1979)
  • Sell My Soul (Fantasy/Honey, 1980)
  • Too Hot To Sleep (Fantasy/Honey, 1981)
  • All I Need (Megatone, 1982)
  • Call Me (Megatone, 1983)
  • M-1015 (Megatone, 1984)
  • 12 By 12 (Megatone)
  • Mutual Attraction (Warner Brothers, 1986)
  • Immortal (Megatone, 1989)

Main singles

  • "Southern Man" (performed by Sylvester & the Hot Band; Blue Thumb, 1973)
  • "Down On Your Knees" (performed by Sylvester & the Hot Band; Blue Thumb, 1973)
  • "Down, Down, Down" (Fantasy, 1977)
  • "Over And Over" (Fantasy, 1977)
  • "Dance (Disco Heat)" (Fantasy, 1978)
  • "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" (Fantasy, 1978)
  • "I (Who Have Nothing)" (Fantasy, 1979)
  • "Stars" (Fantasy, 1979)
  • "Can't Stop Dancing" (Fantasy, 1979)
  • "You Are My Friend" (Fantasy, 1980)
  • "I Need You" (Fantasy, 1980)
  • "Sell My Soul" (Fantasy, 1980)
  • "Here Is My Love" (Fantasy, 1981)
  • "Give It Up (Don't Make Me Wait)" (Fantasy, 1981)
  • "Magic Number" (performed by Herbie Hancock featuring Sylvester; Columbia, 1981)
  • "Do You Wanna Funk" (Patrick Cowley and Sylvester; Megatone, 1982)
  • "Don't Stop" (Megatone, 1982)
  • "Tell Me" (Megatone, 1982)
  • "Be With You" (Megatone, 1982)
  • "All I Need" (Megatone, 1982)
  • "Don't Stop" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "Tell Me" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "Hard Up" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "Band Of Gold" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "Too Late" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "One Night Only" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "Trouble In Paradise" (Megatone, 1983)
  • "Stargazing" (performed by Earlene Bentley featuring Sylvester; UK release; Record Shack, 1984)
  • "Good Feeling" (German release; Bellaphone, 1984)
  • "Call Me" (Megatone, 1984)
  • "Menergy" (ERC Records, 1984)
  • "Rock The Box" (Megatone, 1984)
  • "Take Me To Heaven" (Megatone, 1985)
  • "Sex" (Megatone, 1985)
  • "Takin Love Into My Own hand" (Mexico release; Discos Musart, 1985)
  • "Lovin Is Really My Game" (Megatone, 1985)
  • "Living For The City" (Warner Bros, 1986)
  • "Someone Like You" (Warner Bros, 1986)
  • "Mutual Attraction" (Warner Bros, 1987)
  • "Sooner Or Later" (Warner Bros, 1987)

Additional recordings

  • Lights Out San Francisco (Blue Thumb, 1972)
    • Sylvester supplies two tracks on this album compiled by the KSAN radio station

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sylvester (singer)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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