Sylvester / Sept 6, 1947 - Dec 16, 1988

A left-field favorite of mine, Sylvester James Jr became a hugely popular disco singer and a gay icon. But to my ears his best work was with his funky Hot Band, a staple of our '70s Funk Rock DJ parties. But the real story was his colorful life as a flamboyantly out-and-proud gay man with a love for cross-dressing and a creamy falsetto who came to be acknowledged as "the Queen of Disco".

From Watts, he sang gospel as a child but was kicked out of the church due to his sexual orientation. He and his gay & trans friends would party at Etta James' house, cross-dressing for each other. During the Watts riots they looted for wigs and cosmetics.

He moved to San Fransisco in '70 and married a man. He was a member of the avant-doo-wop drag group The Cockettes, leaving the group after a performance in NYC. Channeling the spirits of Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker, he performed one-man theatrical shows around California.

In the early '70s he formed a funk-rock group called The Hot Band who made a couple of great albums (with Pointer Sisters on backing vocals) before breaking up in '73. He went solo in the mid-'70s, playing gay bars around San Fran and befriending Harvey Milk. He had a cameo in the Bette Midler movie The Rose.

Having great success with disco, he had huge hits with "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)" before getting into the Hi-NRG scene and becoming part-owner of gay-club-oriented label Megatone. In '85 he sang backing vocals on Aretha Franklin's Who's Zooming Who album.

After the losses and deteriorating conditions of his friends, he became an AIDS awareness activist, often volunteering his time and energy. He himself died of AIDS in '88, leaving his future royalties to the cause of fighting or educating about HIV. There have been multiple movies and a musical made about him. Indeed, Sylvester was a one-and-only.

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