ACRN Celebrates: Sylvester, Queen of Disco

By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor

Sylvester, the Queen of Disco, grew up in the Pentecostal church, where he found his passion for singing through a gospel choir. As an androgynous gay man, he had a difficult time feeling like he belonged and eventually found groups of gay men, trans women and drag queens to perform with, The Disquotays and The Cockettes. He was most notable for his powerful falsetto voice and range. Sylvester was obsessed with black musical heritage and tried to incorporate it into his acts and music as much as he could. 

Read more: ACRN Celebrates: Bob Marley

After having trouble with the groups, he went solo, and after a few rotating casts of producers and backup singers, Sylvester broke out, producing Step II in 1978, an album with his most famous track “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”. He was a hit in gay clubs around the globe. Disco is tightly knit with black, Latino and LGBT communities, and as that became more obvious, many people outside of this community began to turn away from the genre altogether. Sylvester made two soul albums, but then returned to dance music aimed towards the LGBT community. “Someone Like You” and the Hi-NRG hit “Do Ya Wanna Funk” come from his later period representing a powerful comeback to the electronic dance genre. 

Sylvester’s sense of style and contentment with his gender fluidity, combined with his amazing capability to go much further than what was standard for disco and R&B is what makes him a stand-out performer of this time. Sadly, as many stories of LGBT icons of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s end, Sylvester died from complications with AIDS. Instead of shrinking away and feeling ashamed, Sylvester continued to be present in the media where he frequently addressed the way that AIDS affects the African-American community.  Sylvester has said, “I don’t believe that AIDS is the wrath of God. People have a tendency to blame everything on God.

Sylvester’s legacy lives on through his work in both the LGBT and black communities. His music still touches and influences electronic dance music to this day, as he helped to solidify the genre. Sylvester’s estate donates all of his royalties to Project Open Hand and the AIDS Emergency Fund. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” is preserved in the National Recording Registry. Sylvester did not shy away from being the blackest and gayest he could possibly be. Sylvester is a true icon of black and LGBT culture. 

Check out Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” below: 

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