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Sylvester collection
2018-05  
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
Sylvester (born Sylvester James Jr.) was a disco-soul singer-songwriter known for his androgynous appearance, falsetto singing voice, and the moniker the “Queen of Disco.” The collection is arranged into four series: Photographs, Publicity and Event Materials, Audiovisual Materials, and Garments and Artifacts.
Background
Sylvester (born Sylvester James Jr.) was a disco-soul singer-songwriter known for his androgynous appearance, falsetto singing voice, and the moniker the “Queen of Disco.” He was born September 6, 1947 in the Watts district of Los Angeles and developed a passion for singing through the gospel choir of the Pentecostal church he attended as a child. Sylvester left the church after the congregation expressed disapproval of his homosexuality. Around this time, he became involved with a group called the Disquotays, which included Black transwomen and people who identified as cross-dressers. In 1970, Sylvester moved to San Francisco where he became a member of the avant garde psychedelic theatre group, the Cockettes. During this time, he performed in solo segments of their shows, largely influenced by female soul and jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday. In 1977, Sylvester released his eponymous first solo album. A year later, he released the disco record, Step II which included two of his most famous songs, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” The album was certified gold and praised worldwide. In the years to follow, Sylvester recorded eight additional albums with Fantasy Records and Megatone Records, the latter of which was owned by his friend and longtime collaborator, Patrick Cowley. In the early 1980s, Sylvester became involved in AIDS/HIV activism, performing in charity benefits to raise money and awareness to combat the spread of the disease. In 1987, after losing his boyfriend to the disease, Sylvester was diagnosed with AIDS. As his health deteriorated rapidly, he used his platform as a celebrity to speak openly about his condition and the impact that the disease was having on the Black community. Sylvester died December 16, 1988, at the age of 41. In his will, he left royalties from the future sales of his music to two HIV/AIDS charities, Project Open Hand and the AIDS Emergency Fund.
Extent
12.75 linear feet (1 carton, 1 manuscript box, 8 oversize boxes, 1 artifact)
Restrictions
Copyright to material owned by the donor has been transferred to the GLBT Historical Society. All requests for reproductions and/or permission to publish or quote from material must be submitted in writing to the GLBT Historical Society Archivist.
Availability
Collection is open for research. Funding for processing this collection was provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).