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Sylvester Diva Series Tribute: Celebrating a Pioneering Gay Disco Icon

Sylvester James Jr., popularly known simply as Sylvester, carved a unique space in the American music scene with his pulsating disco hits, soulful melodies, and unparalleled flamboyance. Renowned for his androgynous allure and falsetto vocal chops, Sylvester rose to stardom in the late ’70s and early ’80s, turning heads and filling dance floors.

Sylvester’s musical journey took off with his self-titled debut album in 1977, featuring the moderately successful disco hit “Over and Over,” beautifully showcased in DJ Meme’s nostalgic tribute mix. The following year, he dropped the seminal album “Step II,” giving us timeless dance classics like “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” These hits featured backup vocalists Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, known together as Two Tons O’ Fun, who later gained gay icon status with the unforgettable “It’s Raining Men” as the Weather Girls.

It’s imperative to recognize the influence of Patrick Cowley in shaping Sylvester’s sonic landscape. Invited to participate in these sessions, Cowley’s synthesized arrangements became a cornerstone of Sylvester’s most iconic songs. Later, Cowley would become an even more significant contributor to Sylvester’s legacy, particularly during his ventures into NRG music.

Although the album “Stars” had its moments, particularly with the track “I (Who Have Nothing),” it couldn’t match the seismic impact of its predecessor. Sylvester faced subsequent challenges, including the decline in popularity of disco due to the “disco sucks” backlash. This led him to part ways with his label and take greater control over his artistic direction.

Reuniting with Patrick Cowley, Sylvester released music on Cowley’s Megatone Records. At a time when NRG music was taking gay clubs by storm, the duo released “Do Ya Wanna Funk,” a track that would become an enduring gay anthem. Tragically, during a tour in the UK, Sylvester was rocked by the news of Cowley’s passing due to AIDS.

Sylvester continued to release music, achieving varying degrees of success, until his final album “Mutual Attraction.” Distributed through Warner Brothers, the album yielded chart-topping dance hits like “Someone Like You” and “Living For the City.” Unfortunately, his declining health prevented him from completing his next album.

Creating this tribute set was an emotionally taxing endeavor. The tracks span five decades, incorporating various remixes and tempos ranging from 147 to 106 bpm. The challenge was monumental, but the final result is a tribute that I believe does justice to Sylvester’s indomitable spirit and incomparable talent.

Sylvester wasn’t just a disco sensation; he was an American icon and a pioneering openly gay artist. Though not transgender himself, he shattered societal norms and paved the way for greater LGBTQ+ representation, impacting even the “Q” in the acronym. Sylvester’s audacious expression of his identity might have been shocking for the time, but it ignited a necessary dialogue that contributed to societal progress in accepting individual uniqueness. There’s no doubt that Sylvester left the world a better place, simply by being himself.

Until the next time…ENJOY

1. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) (David Morales Def 2005 Mix)

2. Rock The Box (Power Remix)

3. Menergy (Deep House Remix) [with Patrick Cowley]

4. I (Who Have Nothing) (Special 12″ Disco Mix Edit)

5. Stars (ZsLickHaRn 70’s Disco Rebuild)

6. Lovin’ Is Really My Game (Disco Purrfection Version)

7. Be With You (Remix)

8. Take Me To Heaven (Remix)

9. Taking Love Into My Own Hands (Remix)

10. Do Ya Wanna Funk (Italian Boy)

11. Sex (Ian Levine Remix)

12. Don’t Stop (Joseph Watt Remix)

13. Can’t Stop Dancing (12″ Mix)

14. Dance (Disco Heat) (Hot Classics Remix)

15. Do Ya Wanna Funk (Dr. Packer Remix)

16. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) (Michael Gray Remix)

17. Over And Over (DJ Meme Epiphany 2020 Mix)

18. I Need You (Opolopo Remix)

19. Tell Me (Remix Edit)

20. Someone Like You (Original 12″ Version)

21. Mutual Attraction (Come Together Mix)

22. I Need Somebody To Love Tonight (Psychemagik Remix)

23. Give It Up (Don’t Make Me Wait) (Horse Meat Disco Remix)

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