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Sylvester James (Los Angeles, September 6, 1947 – San Francisco, December 16, 1988), better known as Sylvester, was an American disco and soul singer-songwriter. Known for his flamboyant and androgynous appearance, he was often described as a drag queen, although 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 hishomosexuality, he was an early founder of a group of African-American cross-dressers and transwomen known as The Disquotays, who disbanded in 1970. Moving to San Francisco, he embraced the counter-culture 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.
Fronting Sylvester and his Hot Band, he released two commercially unsuccessful albums on Blue Thumb Records in 1973. Gaining new backing singers in the form of Two Tons O' Fun andJeanie Tracy, he obtained a recording contract with Harvey Fuqua of Fantasy Records. His first solo album, Sylvester (1977), was a moderate success, and was followed by acclaimeddisco album Step II (1978), which spawned the hit singles "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)". He produced three more albums with Fantasy Records before signing to Megatone Records, the dance-orientated label founded by friend and collaborator Patrick Cowley, with whom he produced four albums and the 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.
On September 20, 2004, Sylvester's anthem record, "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. A year later, on September 19, 2005, Sylvester himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievement as an artist.