Disco icon Sylvester may best be known for the international hit singles ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’, ‘Do You Wanna Funk’ and ‘Menergy’, but the recording artist’s groundbreaking career also furthered queer visibility in popular culture. Leaving a legacy that continues to influence today’s pop music.
Through the compelling new documentary ‘Love Me Like You Should: The Brave and Bold Sylvester’, produced for Pride 2020 by Amazon Music in collaboration with filmmaker Lauren Tabak and writer/consulting producer Barry Walters. The short documentary details the life and times of Sylvester James Jr., known mononymously as Sylvester.
When I saw Sylvester, my life was altered, my life was changed for the better. As a Black queer gay man, any glimmer of seeing oneself reflected back at them, through our culture, changes lives.
The legacy of a musician who set new precedent for genderqueer, gay and black entertainers has been revisited the new mini-documentary. Sylvester’s story comes to life once more and the true extent of his impact – inside and out of the music industry – is explored.
It is a compilation of archival footage, as well as rare performance clips, charting Sylvester’s rise from Los Angeles choir boy to glam 1970s hit-maker. Starting with his birth in South Central Los Angeles, it charts the course of his move to San Fransisco’s Castro District and later breakthrough as a singer/songwriter.
He crossed over, he was a genderfluid Black man in mainstream music. That hasn’t happened since. There’s been a lot of us who have tried – and I’ve been trying for 30 years – nobody did it like Sylvester.
While the significant influence of black culture on mainstream music extends back at least a century, James was among the first non-binary artists to achieve superstardom. As pointed out in the documentary, he championed gender fluidity years before it would be called that through his unapologetic style and demeanor.
The filmmakers also incorporate interviews with Sylvester’s sister Bernadette Baldwin, singer, actor and activist Billy Porter as well as collaborators like musician Peter Mintun, producer/songwriter James ‘Tip’ Wirrick, former background singer Martha Wash (Two Tons of Fun/Weather Girls), and Sylvester biographer Josh Gamson.
Sylvester was always ahead of us. He did things like talk about being married to a man before gay marriage was a thought. He responded to Joan Rivers saying that he was this drag queen by saying, ‘But I’m not a drag queen, I’m Sylvester.’ He wasn’t saying there’s something wrong with being a drag queen, he was saying that’s not how gender works. It was gender fluidity and nonbinary gender before we were really there.
In addition to interviews, and with his version of ‘God Bless The Child’ on the bacjground, – its is musical treasure! The kind of music he loved more then disco! – the 15-minute doc shows rare archival footage of Sylvester, including performances at The Stud, the historic San Francisco gay bar that recently shuttered. It also depicts how a 1979 show at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House was a healing, joyous moment for the city in the wake of the assassination of gay politician Harvey Milk.
Sylvester died at the age of 41 on December 16th, 1988 after a long battle of an AIDS-related illness. He had attended the San Francisco Pride parade in a wheelchair shortly before passing on to show solidarity even in his final years. His legacy, however, continues to live on…..
Watch the 15-minute documentary:
Amazon has also curated a playlist called Pride History on which ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ is an entry.
Want to read the whole story of Sylvester? Use the ‘Sylvester’ tag….