We couldn’t celebrate Pride without remembering one of the most inspirational members of the LGBT community. Known as the “Queen of Disco”, Sylvester was one of the very first openly gender fluid musicians, being among the first to embrace his sexuality and not being afraid to dress up or make up to truly celebrate the diversity and expression of the community.
Known best for his hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” with his gorgeous, soaring falsetto, Sylvester was synonymous with building a strong LGBT community in New York during 1970s, becoming both a spokesperson and activist. During a period where many were afraid to speak out, Sylvester was the voice. Unashamably proud, he was a pioneer who stood up for embracing the real you.
I realize that gay people have put me on a pedestal and I love it. They have all the hassles of finding something or someone to identify with – and they chose me.
Mighty Real: Sharon Davis Remembers Sylvester. (2015)
Due to tensions between his mother over his sexuality, Sylvester lived with his grandmother during his teens before befriending soul singer Etta James who supported him. His performances were passionate, energetic, theatrical and flamboyant.
It was through the nightclubs of New York, where his message was symbolized through disco. Disco, and later House, was to become the outlet; as a free-spirited, funky, go-happy music genre, it provided the hedonistic freedom to allow people to let-go, be free and explore.
During a time of poor public perceptions towards homosexuality, gender play and transgender (illegal in California during the 70s), Sylvester was defiant. He refused to live in shame, forging his own identity and rejected those who tried to label him. He was simply Sylvester.
Unfortunately Sylvester passed away in 1988, aged 41 suffering from complications of AIDS. He left all future royalties to HIV/AIDS based charities. During his final days where he was very sick, he still attended Pride festivals in his wheelchair.
In what we feel is a small note of his influence, Sylvester’s backing singers went on to become The Weather Girls with their top hit (and Pride anthem) “It’s Raining Men”.
If you’re looking for a symbol or should we say icon, not just for Pride but for celebrating individuality Sylvester has to be it. RIP.
We are supporting the LGBT Foundation as part of our Pride campaign with a big fundraising day however if you wish to donate please click here and to learn more about the amazing work they do for the community.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like our blog on the top 10 Pride anthems you should know about!