Thursday, December 16, 2010
Disco's first male diva, Sylvester James, died from complications related to AIDS in San Francisco on this day in 1988, cared for by his friend Jeanie Tracy. He was 40. Arguably his most famous song, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) had been released in 1978; other hits included Dance (Disco Heat), Do You Wanna Funk, and Someone Like You.
Asked by his record label in the 1980s to act less gay onstage, he began appearing at meetings in full drag, and the matter was quickly dropped; even record executives, even in their cocaine-induced haze, even given their complete and total lack of knowledge about anyone or anything, knew better than to tangle with a drag queen, especially a black one.
Originally a member of The Cockettes (where he met Divine) Sylvester appeared in The Rose, starring Bette Midler; he also sang backup for Aretha Franklin on her 1985 album Who's Zoomin' Who? and was close friends with Patti LaBelle. In 2008 he was played by Mark Martinez in Milk - Gus Van Sant's brilliant biopic of Harvey Milk.
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