Along with the Village People, '70s disco artist Sylvester was one of the few artists of the era not afraid to openly acknowledge his homosexuality. Born Sylvester James in September 1944 in Los Angeles, California, Sylvester was introduced to music at an early age by his grandmother, Julia Morgan, who was a jazz singer. While still a youngster, Sylvester began singing in gospel groups, while finding further inspiration from the likes of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, among others. After relocating to San Francisco in the late '60s, Sylvester began to perform in a musical production called Women of the Blues before becoming a star attraction of the Cockettes, a gender-bending avant-garde theater troupe, in the early '70s. After leaving the Cockettes in 1973, Sylvester signed on with the Hot Band and issued such releases as Scratch My Flower and Bazaar the same year. Sylvester's dance-happy funk style eventually transformed into disco, as his flamboyant and over the top stage act created quite a following for the singer in the San Francisco area. He also issued some of his best-known recordings around the end of the decade -- 1977's Sylvester and 1979's in-concert Living Proof -- while racking up such popular disco hits as "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)."
The year 1979 saw Sylvester receive three Billboard awards and another for Best Male Disco Act from Disco International Magazine, as well as landing a bit part in Bette Midler's 1979 movie The Rose. But by the dawn of the '80s, disco was being considered increasingly passé and the singer's career began to slow down (funny enough, Sylvester's backup singers, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, would go on to form the Weather Girls, and score one of 1982's big dance hits with "It's Raining Men"). Although he continued to issue albums throughout the '80s, Sylvester's career came to an abrupt and tragic end on December 16, 1988, when he died from AIDS-related complications. Despite his passing, Sylvester's music remains popular on dancefloors worldwide, while "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" has been covered over the years by three separate artists: former lead singer of Bronski Beat and the Communards Jimmy Somerville (on his 1989 solo debut Read My Lips), comedian/actor/singer Sandra Bernhard (on her 1994 release Excuses for Bad Behavior, Pt. 1), and former Ten City lead singer Byron Stingily (on his 1998 solo debut, The Purist), whose version hit number one on the U.S. dance chart the same year. (Greg Prato, AMG)