Sylvester James, Jr. better known as Sylvester, was a disco and soul singer-songwriter. Known for his flamboyant and androgynous appearance that exemplified the era. Sylvester was often described by the mainstream media as a drag queen, but he repeatedly rejected such a description. Responsible for a string of hit singles in the late 1970s, Sylvester became known in the United States under the moniker of the “Queen of Disco.”
Born in Watts, Los Angeles, Sylvester developed a love of singing through the gospel choirs of his Pentecostal church. Leaving the congregation after being persecuted for his homosexuality, he was an early founder of a group of black cross-dressers and trans women known as The Disquotays, who disbanded in 1970. Moving to San Francisco, he embraced the counterculture and joined drag troupe The Cockettes, eventually producing solo shows heavily influenced by female blues and jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. During their critically panned tour of New York City, Sylvester left the Cockettes to focus on his solo career.
His first solo album, Sylvester (1977), was a moderate success, and was followed by acclaimed disco album Step II (1978), which spawned the hit singles “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” He recorded four more albums, including a live album, with Fantasy Records before signing to Megatone Records, the dance-oriented label founded by friend and collaborator Patrick Cowley, where he recorded four more albums, including the Cowley penned and produced hit Hi-NRG track “Do Ya Wanna Funk.” An activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS, Sylvester died from complications arising from the virus in 1988.
Now through October 5, 2014 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th Street. Tickets are priced from $25-$84.50, and are on sale now by calling (866) 811-4111 or by visiting FabulousSylvester.com.