Sylvester: Gospel Singer, Disco, Dance, Diva, Legend 1946 – 1988

Sylvester born Sylvester James September 6, 1946 into a low income family in , California and was raised by his mother Letha. Sylvester, his mother Letha and brother lived in a tiny two room house where he shared a bunk bed with his younger brother. Sylvester was the oldest of six kids and never knew what it meant to have a father.

Inspired by his grandmother Julia Morgan James to sing, his talent first came about at the Palm Lane Church of God in Christ in the South Los Angeles area. Before he knew it, Sylvester dubbed “The Child Wonder of Gospel” was making his rounds and started touching people with his music all through Southern California & beyond.

By the age of 16 years old Sylvester was clashing with his step father and mother and decided it was time to run away. For numerous years Sylvester lived on the streets around the L.A. area and managed to finish high school & Lamert Beauty College during his hardest times. By 1967 Sylvester decided it was time to move to San Francisco where he felt he would feel more comfortable pursuing his music career.

During his time in San Francisco Sylvester showcased his talent in a musical production called “Women of the Blues” with his rendition of Bessie Smith and Billy Holiday songs. In the early 70’s Sylvester was part of a performance group of artist called “The Cockettes” a psychedelic troupe founded by George Harris aka Hibiscus.

Once he left the Cockettes, Sylvester would perform all through-out San Francisco as a solo act. One of his notable shows was titled “Jungle Sin” which was based around his solo songs that were sung while he was with Cockette. Most of his shows were played in the San Francisco Supper Club Bimbo’s and put together by the rock impresario David Ferguson in the year 1972.

During that same year Sylvester did a show at The Temple in San Francisco with the Pointer Sisters which was also produced by David Ferguson. That same year Sylvester supplied two tracks to Lights Out San Francisco an album put together by KSAN radio station and released on the Blue Thumb Label.

By 1973 Sylvester released two rock albums with The Hot Band (Bobby Blood on trumpet, Chris Mostert on sax, James Q. Smith on guitar, Travis Fullerton on drums, and Kerry hatch on Bass) on Blue Thumb.

Sylvester met Horus Jack Tolsen (keyboardist) in 1974, together with Sylvester’s drummer Amadeo Barrios and his brother Adrain Barrios. They became the trio behind Sylvester in a night club in San Francisco named Cabaret After Dark.

Not to long after the trio was formed Horus was fired (reason unknown) and Amadeo was quick to bring in new players. Archie White (keyboardist), Angel Reyes (guitarist), Bianca Thorton (background vocalist), Gerry Kirby with another vocalist named Debbie brought Sylvester musical sound into another direction.

In 1975 the group broke up and the two Barrios brothers ended up joining The Lenny Williams Band & Sly Stone. Sylvester continued to serve the children with his musical sounds and by 1977 he signed a solo deal with Fantasy Records. He starts to work closely with legendary Motown producer Harvey Fuqua which later in his career help produce “Stars” in 1979. Sylvester later makes claims that Fuqua lied and deceived him out of millions.

Sylvester collaborates with synthesizer Patrick Cowley which is a match made in heaven, with Sylvester’s soulful voice and Cowley’s dance style made it a magical combination. Sylvester’s 1978 album Step II released two insta-classic tracks: “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” and “Dance (Disco Heat)” which climbed the charts right to number one for six consecutive weeks in August & September.

1979 brought him three Billboard awards, this was at a time when both his live shows and recordings had Two Tons O’ Fun Martha Wash & Izora Rhodes (future Weather Girls) as his back-up singers. He also made a special appearance in the movie “The Rose” starring (The Divine Miss M aka) Bette Midler. In this movie he sang “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” live from The Castro Street Fair (Thanks to ).

Sylvester quickly earned a Hi NRG Classic with “Do You Wanna Funk” in 1982 while on Megatone Records, which was featured in the 1983 movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy. Sylvester felt right at home during his time on Megatone since he was already good friends with artist Linda Imperial & Jeanie Tracy. He was also very good friends with Patti LaBelle & Sarah Dash ever since he recorded the background vocals for Patti’s dance hit “Lucky Tonight”.

By 1985 the label pressured Sylvester to “butch up” his image, which made him come to all staff meetings and a photo shoot in full drag. The photo with him in full drag later became the cover to one of his album cover (Immortal) after he died as a tribute to him. That same year one of his many dreams came true, he was asked to sing back-up for the Legendary Aretha Franklin on Aretha’s “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? return to music album.

In 1986 one of his solo singles from the album “Someone Like You” (which Keith Haring did the artwork for) that was on Warner Bros. Records became his second number one hit in the United States dance chart. Early 1987 made a statement “I don’t believe that AIDS is the wrath of God. People have a tendency to blame everything on God.”

December 16, 1988 Sylvester dies at 41 years old from complications from AIDS in San Francisco. Sylvester continues to make his mark even in the new millenium, he can be seen in “Cockettes” short film “Tricia’s Wedding” (film lampooning the wedding of President Nixon’s daughter Tricia).

He can also be seen in a 2002 documentary about the group which featured Divine. Sylvester’s smash hit record “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame on September 20, 2004 and in 2005 he himself was inducted into the DMHF for his lifetime achievements.

  • 1973 – Sylvester and the Hot Band (performed by Sylvester & the Hot band) – Label: Blue Thumb Records – Bazaar (performed by Sylvester & the Hot band) Label: Blue Thumb.
  • 1977 – Sylvester – Label: Fantasy Records.
  • 1978 – Step II – Label: Fantasy.
  • 1979 – Stars – Label: Fantasy.
  • 1979  Live albums – US R&B: IT & Living Proof – Label: Fantasy (Double-LP).
  • 1980 Sell My Soul – Label: Fantasy Honey Records.
  • 1981 Too Hot To Sleep – Label: Fantasy Honey.
  • 1982 – All I Need – Label: Megatone Records.
  • 1983 Call Me – Label: Megatone.
  • 1984 – M-1015 – Label: Megatone.
  • 1986 – Mutual Attraction – Label: Warner Bros. Records.
  • Compilation albums – Mighty Real (1979 – Fantasy) UK – 12 By 12 (1985 – Megatone) – Immortal (1989 – Megatone)

SYLVESTER-YOU MAKE ME FEEL, Courtesy of aereo. Thank you

Sylvester Do You Wanna Funk Disco 80’s Music Video, Courtesy of kilroygv. Thank you

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