Sylvester - Nominee

1947 - 1988

Sylvester James was born into a low-income home in Los Angeles where he became a child celebrity for his singing while performing in various Southern California churches as The Child Wonder of Gospel. When his mother remarried he ran away from home - living on the streets, enrolling in beauty school, and eventually fleeing to San Francisco in 1967. He soon joined the legendary performance group The Cockettes in their outrageous stage shows and appeared in their shocking short film, ‘Tricia Nixon’s Wedding.’ Sylvester continued getting performing in various bands and venues throughout the early and mid 1970s. In 1977 he released his first solo recording. In 1978 his follow-up effort, ‘Step II’, pushed him into the disco stratosphere. Powered by the singles ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’ Sylvester entered the mainstream as a black drag superstar, soaring on a blend of his gospel virtuosity and the astounding vocals of his back-up Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes, Two Tons O’ Fun (a.k.a. The Weather Girls). His additional hits included ‘Do You Wanna Funk’, ‘All I Need’, ‘Over and Over’, ‘Can’t Stop Dancin’ and ‘Mutual Attraction.’ Adamant in his refusal to tone down his flamboyance, he attended meetings with record executives in full drag and gave them pictures from a drag photo shoot and said; “This is my new album cover.” Diagnosed with AIDS, Sylvester stopped performing but unlike many he chose to remain in the spotlight to help raise awareness about the devastating disease. He died on December 16, 1988 at age 41.



Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Genderqueer/Non-Binary

Ethnicity African American

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Information Age (1970-present)

Field(s) of Contribution



Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Given Moniker Queen of Disco During the Late 1970s

Awarded Key to the City of San Francisco by then Mayor Diane Feinstein (1979)

Posthumous Dance Music Hall of Fame Induction (2005)

Inaugural San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2014)

Library of Congress Selected You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) for National Recording Registry Preservation (2019)


Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell