Depending on your source, yesterday or today was the birthday of Sylvester James, commonly known as Sylvester, one of the first great “personas” of disco. For those unfamiliar with Sylvester, he could best be described as Diana Ross, Thelma Houston and Martha Wash, all rolled into one. For me, as a gay boy coming out in Mansfield, Ohio in the mid/late 70’s, Sylvester epitomized sexual freedom, disco and fabulousity, all in one energetic package.
First at Richard’s Night Club in Mansfield and later – when I had gas money – at clubs like The “K” (Kismet), The Grotto and The Twilight in Columbus, my gay posse and I would bump and bus stop for hours on the weekends, drinking 3.2 beer and feeling oh so glamorous. We would dance to EXTENDED remixes of “Dance (Disco Heat)” till our Huck-a-poo Shirts and Angel Flight elephant bells (no outside seams!) were soaked with sweat.
And I loved it…
For people that were born AFTER disco, I kinda’ feel sorry for you. In my opinion, no other musical movement has ever been so liberating or joyful, so glamorous or just plain beautiful. We planned our “outfits” days before the weekend arrived. We aspired to be as handsome as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. The four, six or eight of us – we were a big group – all knew we were going to move to New York and hang out at Studio 54 with Halston and Liza and Warhol. We would be friends with super models – heck, we were already friends with stunning drag queens in Columbus with names like Brandy “Lick Me” Lamont, Tiff Daniels, Misty Blue and Miss Georgia Jackson. Those ladies were “fierce” before the word was even invented; they were “hot” decades before Paris Hilton was even born. And the soundtrack always running in the background – the music that made me feel alive – was always Sylvester. Sylvester’s music fused with my soul. He made me feel “mighty real…”
Sadly, eventually disco faded. No one from our group moved to NYC. No one met any super models. Most of us went on to have fairly regular lives, although quite a few of us are gone now. And yet, whenever, I hear these songs, I am transported back to the glittery night life of my youth, surrounded by Kirk and Chip and Donnie and Kevin, Scott and Creepy David (long story), Rick and Little Gregg and Harold – and so many others.
Music has always been very special to me, and Sylvester? Thank you for being such a HUGE part of my coming out, and the decades since. I have always believed Heaven looks like a big, olde skool disco – shiny, with glitter balls and smoke machines and beautiful men and women just dancing and feeling free. I hope I don’t see you TOO soon but, when I get to Heaven, I’ll follow the music till I find you so I can finally thank you in person and tell you how much your music has meant to me….
While the songs above are probably more familiar, please click the mirror ball below to hear Sylvester sing “Stars” from 1979. It is MY favorite Sylvester song – it is an amazing affirmation set to music. “You are a star…”