Sylvester James Jr was an American singer-songwriter most famed for a series of disco hits in the 1970s and 80s. Having grown up singing in church, he was ostracised by his Watts, L.A. congregation for his homosexuality he found friendship and acceptance among The Cockettes, a San Francisco drag troupe he joined at the age of 22.
He signed a solo recording contract in 1973 and released eleven studio albums progressing from disco to Hi-NRG. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Do You Wanna Funk were his biggest hits in the US and UK.
Sylvester was genderqueer – wearing male or female attire as he felt, and openly gay. He was given the title ‘Queen of Disco’ and posthumously inducted into the US Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. He died of AIDS-related illness in 1988, bequeathing his royalties to two charities AIDS Emergency Fund and Project Open Hand.
Sylvester was a campaigner for LGBT equality, noting;
‘I realise that gay people have put me on a pedestal and I love it. After all, of all the oppressed minorities, they just have to be the most oppressed. They have all the hassles of finding something or someone to identify with – and they chose me. I like being around gay people and they’ve proven to be some of my closest friends and most loyal audiences’
In this interview with Joan Rivers he speaks frankly about his ground-breaking 1970 marriage to a man.
Be Real like Sylvester
BlackOutUK is focused on authentic narratives and action. We are inspired by Sylvester to speak our truths, however uncomfortable they may make mainstream opinion-formers. We also seek to embrace the diversity in gender expression/identity among our communities. Like Sylvester we appreciate the importance of music and dancing to our cultures and will continue to support and create black queer spaces where we have the freedom to ‘be real’.
Read more about Sylvester and their legacy
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