Happy Birthday to Princess Salimah Aga Khan, who turns 80 today! Born Sarah Frances Croker-Poole, the daughter of Lt.-Col. Arthur Edward Croker-Poole and Jean Margaret Watson, in New Delhi, she grew up in Britain and was among the last debutantes presented to the Queen in 1958.
She married, firstly, Lord James Charles Crichton-Stuart, son of John Crichton-Stuart, 5th Marquess of Bute and Lady Eileen Beatrice Forbes, on 25 June 1959. She and Lord James Charles Crichton-Stuart were divorced in 1968. One year later, she married Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the 49th hereditary Imam of Nizari Ismailism, son of Prince Aly Aga Khan and Hon. Princess Tajuddawlah Aga Khan, in 1969. During her marriage to the Aga Khan, her official name was Her Highness The Begum Salimah Aga Khan, although she remained informally known as Sally. The couple had three children: Princess Zahra Aga Khan (born 18 September 1970), Prince Rahim Aga Khan (born 12 October 1971) and Prince Hussain Aga Khan (born 10 April 1974). The couple sadly divorced in 1995. Following their divorce, she kept the title of ‘Princess’ (but losing the style ‘Highness’).
Since Their Highnesses separated, more then ever, Princess Salimah has committed herself to supporting various humanitarian efforts, especially those in the areas of health and child support. It became her life.
Princess Salimah is a child-welfare activist and a prominent supporter of the charity SOS Children’s Villages International (SOS Kinderdorf International), becoming its first International Ambassador. She appointed the first SOS-Kinderdorf International Ambassador for Children in 2000, is actively involved in that organization’s work and has visited SOS Children’s facilities in Cambodia, Nepal, Romania, France, Egypt, India, Austria, South Africa, Pakistan, Germany, Mexico, El Salvador, Panama, Portugal, and the United States. Princess Salimah Aga Khan, has also been active in the Aga Khan Development Network, and resides in Switzerland since 1969.
Princess Salimah is very respected and loved, for her eternal love, her kindness (I will never forget!), her honesty, and her help (she hates the word ‘charity’!). Yakymour wishes her a beautiful birthday with her familiy and friends. Hope we’ll meet again. Love always.
Yvette ‘Yvonne’ Blanche Labrousse born in 1906, of a father who was a tramway driver and a town councillor for Le Cannet, and a mother who was a seamstress. Nothing in her modest upbringing told anything of the glorious destiny that was to be hers.
Today, 110 years ago, Yvette Labrousse was born Yvonne Blanch Labrousse in the small town of Sète, near Marseilles, France, on 15 February 1906. She was the daughter of Adrien Labrousse (October 25, 1874 – June 1, 1969) and Marie Brouet (December 26, 1870 – .. ) , a seamstress. When she was only six months old her family soon move to Cannes, where they lived in a flat in the Rue d’Antibes, and later on to Lyon where the young Yvette spent most of her childhood.
Yvette grew up tall, more than six feet, and vèry beautiful. Having stricktly raised, however, she showed no disposition to accept the film and modelling offers that cameher way, instead, she went to work with her mother, who was running a dress shop that time. She always told that her parents were very warm, kind and always openminded.
After being elected Miss Lyon in 1929, at the age of twenty-four, then Miss France in Paris in 1930, she joined the Miss Europe 1930 pageant in Paris, at the Paris Opera. The streets outside the hall were packed with people eager to see the beautiful participants from all over Europe… It was one of the most talked about events in the press.
Miss France, Yvette Labrousse, was always full of great story’s about ‘her time’ as Miss France. Talking about the girls, the fashion of that time, the make-up and the travels.
Yvette Labrousse, Paris, 1930’s
Yet Yvette Labrousse was no longer a provincial. As a beauty queen and a representatieve of France, she traveled to many countries around the world. She found herself particulary taken by Egypt and, in the late thirdies she moved to Egypt, she moved to Cairo and adopted the faith of Islam.
In Cairo, Yvette Labrousse met her future husband, the Sultan Aga Khan III, 48th Imam of the Nizari Shia Ismaili community, and they fell in love at first sight when they met at a royal dancing party in Egypt in 1938. They married thirteen months after the Aga Khan III and his third wife were divorcedby mutual consent, on 9 October 1944 in Switzerland.
Sir Sultan Mohamad Aga Khan III and Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan seated half-length portrait by Weinberg. Photograph signed and inscribed by Begum, “A souvenir – from an old friend – of the family Aga Khan”. Inscribed in the image, middle left and right. 8 1/2×6 1/2 inches; matted in original sterling silver frame bearing Khan’s emblem at top. Circa 1955
After her marriage she took the name of Om Habibeh (Little Mother of the Beloved) and became Begum, fully Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan. Her husband playfully nicknamed her ‘Yaky’, which was composed from the initials of ‘Yvette’, ‘Aga’ and ‘Khan’. In 1954, Om Habibeh was given the title of ‘Mata Salamat’, which literally means serene or peaceful mother. She was the foutyh woman in Islamic history with that title during last 13 centuries.
I have at last been granted the real and wonderful haven of finding in and with my wife a true union of mind and soul
Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III, in his Memoirs ‘World Enough & Time’, page 275
They settled in the Avenue Victoria villa at Le Cannet, in the hills above Cannes, on a hillside wich she had once looked on to from the flat in the Rue d’Antibes, for which planning permission applications had been submitted in 1937. They named it Yakymour: Y for Yvette, ak for Aga Khan, mour for amour. The French word for love. As is clear from such indications , the couple was very close and the two loved each other dearly.
Yakymour, Le Cannet, France
Within this property surrounded by parkland, Her Higness La Bégum used to assemble the members of the Cannes film festival jury, and many national and international movie stars. Some of them became friends for live. She wasn’t only Kees van Dongen’s muse, but with her husband’s encouragement, she also developed an active interest in painting and sculpture, herself becoming an accomplished artist and sculptor. She was also interested in the arts including classical music, opera and ballet.
I always appreciated beauty, but he (the Aga Khan) taught me how really to enjoy a lovely sunset, moonlight, to know the stars, the colours and scents of flowers, to like music, ballet and opera, to appreciate everything that is beautiful in life.
Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan
She rarely left his side, and nursed him devotedly through the pains of old age until his death in 1957. But her duty was also a delight. She never ceased to be grateful for the manner in which he had widened her horizons, especially in music and in the arts. “Enjoy yourself”, he told her. “It’s later then you think”.
Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan
Shortly before his death, the Aga Khan III chose a location on the West Bank of the Nile as his final resting place. The location was highly symbolic, for centuries earlier the Aga Khan’s ancestors had founded the Fatimid dynasty with its capital in Cairo. The Fatimids represented one of the apogees of culture, being patrons of the arts, liteature, achitecture, pluralism (the acceptance of racial, ethnic, cultural and intra-religious differences) and scientific endeavors, all fields that were equally dear to the Aga Khan III an Om Habibeh. The Begum was very supportive of her husband in his work during their thirteen years together. They both took a particular interest in issues affecting women’s welfare.
When her husband died in 1957, he had stated in his will that his successor, his grandson Karim, would have Om Habibeh as advisor for the first seven years of his reign. because she had been familiar for many years with the issues facing his followers and he had the confidence in her wise judgment. Immediatly, with the help of architect Farid El-Shafie and contractor Hassan Dorra, Om Habibeh started building at Aswan, on top of the hill above there house, a mausoleum to her husband, a task that took 16 months. “The Aga Khan wants to sleep in the hot sand overlooking the waters of the Nile”, Om Habibeh always said, “and when I die I want to lie beside him. We do not want to be parted”.
It was not in her nature either to forget, or to try to hide, her humble orgins. Her legacy remains in the Om Habibeh Foundation, whose programs have contributed to health, education and inclusion in some of the poorest areas of Egypt.
Her gesture of daily placing a red rose on her husband’s tomb while in Egypt (every day for 43 years, either the Begum or when she was away in Europe, Sheikh Ahmed Ibrahim, whom she hired in 1963 to spend eight hours a day chanting verses from the Koran over her late husband’s tomb, laid a fresh red rose there) enforced the reputation of the legendary romance between the Aga Khan III and Om Habibeh. After the death of her husband, she continued to live at Yakymour, though she always spent three months a year in the villa at Aswan, the site of her husband’s mausoleum.
As a widow, she travelled widely both for charity and for pleasure. She was a regular face at Ascot (she herself owned several horses), where she always caught the eye. In the 1950’s and 60’s she was a true fashion icon, and was a countless times on the cover of International magazines. Her advice on fashion was typically sensible: “Don’t choose what you like, but what suits you. To be elegant one must have discretion. The secret is in the details”. Often she was sitting front-row at the Paris fashion shows from Christian Dior, Lanvin, Jaques Faith and many others.
Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan by Gyenes
It wasn’t only beauty on the outside. She was dearly loved by her people because of her generosity to the poor, childern, women and the elderly, and, by her own husband as well. She had a big heart for everybody. Also for people outside the Shia Ismaili community. No matter what kind of religion, man or women, or even sexual oriantation, she was véry openminded, Yakymour and Nour el-Salam were both an open house.
We should take care of eachother, everybody should be loved!, we are here on earth to do good, and not to harm or judge people, so lets love.
Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan
Begum Om Habibeh also loved annimals a lot. Over the years she had several dogs and cats. “Every person and every animal should be loved, we are all creations from Allah. “When a person is not good for animals, he can not be good to humans”. “We should take care of eachother, everybody should be loved!, we are here on earth to do good, and not to harm or judge people, so lets love”…. And that’s what she did!
Grandma ‘Yaky’, the Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan with her poodles at Yakymour, Le Cannet, France, January 1, 1985
Beauty was not only on the outside. It came from the heart. Highly popular, Her Highness La Bégum showed great generosity throughout her life. She made many donations to schools (‘education is the most impotant thing in life after being loved’ and ‘The highest result of education is tolerance’ she always said) and hospitals. But also donations to women’s shelters, Alzheimer foundation, and… Aids foundation.
The highest result of education is tolerance.
Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan
Over four decades of widowhood (she never thought of remarrying) she was always out in the community helping the poor and elderly and would relentlessly encourage education for women. For over forty years, banquets were offered to the town’s elderly inhabitants. The Begum also ran a charitable foundation, the Om Habibeh Foundation, which tackled poverty in Aswan, Egypt, where she inherited her husband’s villa by the Nile. At home in Le Cannet, she established a home for the elderly. It was not in her nature either to forget, or to try to hide, her humble origins. In the last years of her life, she made an outstanding donation to the town, enabling it to renew its school property.
Begum Om Habibeh, Le Cannet, Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers, Le Cannet, 1997
She also contributed to the creation of the Jardin des Oliviers, for which the town showed its gratitude by erecting a bronze statue by Charles-Louis La Salle, unveiled by the mayor of Le Cannet Rocheville, in her image. She last appeared in public for the inauguration of this garden in 1997. She was also vèry happy that she could be present at the wedding of Princess Zahra Aga Khan with businessman Mark Boyden, June 21, 1997 in Paris.
Le Cannet, Le Jardin Des Oliviers, Avenue Thiers, bronze statue of Om Habibeh by Charles-Louis La Salle
Before her death, the late Begum arranged for Yakymour, the home of which she and her husband were so fond, to be retained for use by the Aga Khan family. She also planned that a large part of her estate be donated to two foundations closely associated with the family: The Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva, a non-profit organisation established by the current Aga Khan in 1967, which oversees and supports major international programmes in health, education and rural development, in some of the poorest regions of Asia and Africa, and the Bellerive Foundation in Geneva, established by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in 1977, which is devoted to the protection of the environment, conservation of natural resources and the safeguarding of human and animal rights.
There was no doubting her enduring devotion. “Now all I have left to hope for”, she said shortly before her death, “is that Allah will take me to his side”. Begum Om Habibeh ‘Mata Salamat’ aka Yvette Labrousse died on 1 July 2000, in Le Cannet, near Cannes, at the age of 94 years, and is buried next to her beloved husband at the Aga Khan’s sandstone mausoleum in Aswan. The couple had no children. She was survived by her stepson, Sadruddin Aga Khan, and three step-grandchildren, Karim Aga Khan the current Aga Khan, Amyn Aga Khan and Yasmin Aga Khan, who are the children of the late Prince Aly Khan, who died in 1960 and who was the eldest son of the late Aga Khan.
The jamat will recall with fondness and affection her support for the work of My late beloved grandfather, and also her devoted care and attention to Him particularly in the later years of His life. Throughout her lifetime Mata Salamat retained an abiding interest to the progress and well-being of the jamat world-wide
Mawlânâ Hazar Imam Karim Aga Khan IV
She has now been reunited with her husband, who has been resting, since 1957, in a mausoleum built on their Nour es-Salam property, near the river Nile, in Aswan, Egypt. ‘Till today she is very respected and loved. For her eternal love, her honesty, her help (she hated the word ‘charity’!) and being só openminded…..
by Jean Amr
The Om Habibeh Foundation
The Om Habibeh Foundation was established by the Aga Khan’s late step-grandmother, Om Habibeh, the Begum Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan. It is an Egyptian, not-for-profit organisation of long-standing that has been contributing to, and supporting, a number of institutions, in the Aswan area, which are involved in healthcare, education and income generation for disadvantaged communities. The Foundation draws on the support and technical expertise of the agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network to advance the newly announced initiatives.
The Aga Khan Foundation
For more information:
Aga Khan Foundation
Tel. +20 (22) 506 1570
Today we remember and honors the memory of the Original disco diva Sylvester who would have been 68 today. Sylvester James, Jr. (September 6, 1947 – December 16, 1988), better known as Sylvester, was an American disco and soul singer-songwriter, known for his (vèry) clear high voice (occasionally a rich baritone voice), and flamboyant and androgynous appearance. He was often described as a drag queen, although he repeatedly rejected such a description. He was ‘just’ Sylvester!
There’s little doubt of the lasting cultural influence Sylvester had on Disco and Hi-NRG Dance music of the 70’s and 80’s or how strains of his genius continues to ripple through today’s music. His sound has inspired artists in both style, uncompromising creativity and sampled to fuel their own endeavors.
Sylvester James found his way to San Francisco in 1969 from his hometown of Watts in LA where he’d been raised within the confines of his local AME baptist church choir, and as one of his mother’s most cherished children. His grandmother was the jazz singer Julia Morgan. Sylvester joined a troupe of drag queens named the Disquotays in his teens, fixing the crew’s wigs and outfits and floating from party to party under the cover of night to dodge laws forbidding drag in California. He left home in 1970 for San Francisco. It was there, in the queer, roving melting pot of the Castro.
Upon arriving Sylvester found kindred, outside the box, spirits in San Francisco, most notably with SF’s Queer, gender bending, premier tripping, glitter doused, drag/theatre troupe The Cockettes. His vocal stylings of Blues greats Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday standards brought down the house when he opened for many of the Cockettes wildly chaotic and grand productions. Yet his appearances with the group – and especially his soaring solos – quickly turned Sylvester into an underground sensation. In 1972, when David Bowie failed to sell out his first San Francisco show, he told reporters, “They don’t need me; they have Sylvester.” He worked with them until after their infamous New York City debut and disappointingly short Broadway run. Sylvester decided that he wanted to buckle down and get serious. Now was the time to work on his own vision of his music.
A seed had been planted, and Sylvester began to perform solo as the doyenne Ruby Blue, a jazz and soul persona influenced by his grandmother that he’d first assumed with the Cockettes. He played at the Rickshaw Lounge in Chinatown, singing standards by early icons like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Lena Horne. Ruby came about, in Sylvester’s words, to inhabit “the mystery of it. The freedom of it. The glamour of it.” Here, the genesis of Sylvester’s music was born, rich in soul and spiritual traditions, with a high tenor capable of trying on different feminine vocal styles at a whim.
‘Sylvester’s falsetto alone evoked a universe of timeless, idiosyncratic talents and influences’, writes Brian Chin in the package’s liner notes of the ‘Sylvester and the Hot Band’ cd, it’s so true hearing ‘God Bless The Child’
In 1972, Sylvester supplied two cuts to Lights Out San Francisco, an album complied by the KSAN radio station and released on the Blue Thumb label. In 1973, Sylvester & his Hot Band released two rock-oriented albums on Blue Thumb (their self-titled debut was also known as Scratch My Flower (due to a gardenia-shaped scratch-and-sniff sticker adhered to the cover).
Before disco, before ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘You Are My Friend’ 25-year-old Sylvester emerged from the underground scene in San Francisco with a longhaired rock band, recording two influential albums for Blue Thumb Records. Infused with a love of the blues, a deep emotional connection with Billie Holiday and a flair for flamboyance, the Sylvester and his Hot Band tackled with boundless energy a dizzying sampler of American music, from Neil Young to Ray Charles, from James Taylor to ‘My Country ’Tis Of Thee’. His version of ‘God Bless The Child’ is memorable! A musical treasure! The kind of music he loved more then disco!
Sylvester was a sweet individual who had the talent to take you to the dance floor, then take you to church, and bring you back to the dance floor without you knowing.
Signed a solo act to Fantasy Records in 1977, and working with the production talents of legendary Motown producer Harvey Fuqua. His third album, self titled, ‘Sylvester’, the first with his new, East Bay based label, Fantasy, was vèry well received by critics as his fans.
Sylvester enlisted the talent of two amazing singers whose background were, like Sylvester’s own, deeply rooted in the experience of the Gospel music. Martha Wash and Izora Armstead, collectively became his muses, best friends and back up singers he lovingly dubbed The Two Tons of Fun. These women were the last pieces of the puzzle Sylvester had been searching for to help create the perfect sound that’d thrust him and his music onto the world’s exploding Disco stage.
Two singles were issued from the album. The first single, a self-penned song called ‘Down, Down, Down’, charted at #18 in the Billboard Dance chart. The following single ‘Over and Over’ written by the iconic duo Ashford & Simpson failed to make any impression on the charts, at the time. On the track “I’ve Been Down”, the lead vocals are performed by Izora Rhodes and Martha Wash.
Sylvester, Step II
Later Sylvester collaborated with singer, writer and producer, Patrick Cowley, another, out, popular and rising star of the San Francisco, Hi-NRG, Disco sound scene. Cowley’s synthesizer and Sylvester’s voice proved to be a magical combination, and pushed Sylvester’s sound in an increasingly dance-oriented direction. This resulted in 1978’s his fourth album, Step II, Sylvester’s perfect alchemy of music, rhythm, talent and timing paid off spawning two big hits ‘You Make Me Feel, Mighty Real’, written by James Wirrick, and ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’, written by Eric Robinson. On Step II you find also some amazing beautiful soulful ballads.
Both singles proved commercial hits both domestically and abroad, topping the American Dance Chart and breaking into the U.S. pop charts. The album itself was also a success, being certified gold and was described by Rolling Stone magazine as being ‘as good as disco gets’. Sylvester propelled his falsetto far above his natural range into the ether and rode machine rhythms that raced toward escape velocity, creating a new sonic lexicon powerful, camp, and otherworldly enough to articulate the exquisite bliss of disco’s dance floor utopia.
Sylvester’s fame increased following the release of his solo album, and he was employed to perform regularly at The Elephant Walk gay bar in The Castro, an area of San Francisco known as a gay village. He became a friend of Harvey Milk – known locally as the ‘Mayor of Castro Street’- who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and performed at Milk’s birthday party that year.
In both August and December 1978, Sylvester visited London, England to promote his music; he proved hugely popular in the city, performing at a number of different nightclubs and being mobbed by fans. It was while in the city that he filmed the music video for ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’. Back in the U.S., Sylvester began to appear on television shows to advertise his music, appearing on Dinah Shore, American Bandstand, The Merv Griffin Show and Rock Concert.
He also undertook a series of tours across the country, opening for both Chaka Khan and The Commodores, and performing alongside The O’Jays, and L.T.D. As a result, he earned a number of awards and performed at several award ceremonies.
Performing ‘Dance Disco Heat’ and ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’, Ohhh this boy could sing! Sylvester was amazing to work with …really talented, a pro in every sense of the word! Wow…. As Cherrill says “In time they will be regarded as nostalgic reflections of the disco era” …and as we now know they are!
In the spring of 1978, Sylvester successfully auditioned for a cameo appearance in the film The Rose starring gay icon actress and singer Bette Midler. In the film, he plays one of the drag queens singing along to Bob Segar’s ‘The Fire Down Below’, in a single scene that was filmed in a run-down bar in downtown Los Angeles.
November 27, 1978, San Francisco was mourning of the killing of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by Dan White, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. That evening, a spontaneous gathering began to form on Castro Street, moving toward City Hall in a candlelight vigil. Their numbers were estimated between 35,000 and 40,000, spanning the width of Market Street, extending the mile and a half (2.4 km) from Castro Street.
The next day, the bodies of George Moscone and Harvey Milk were brought to the City Hall rotunda where mourners paid their respects. Over six thousand mourners attended a service for Mayor Moscone at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Two memorials were held for Milk; a small one at Temple Emanu-El and a more boisterous one at the War Memorial Opera House.
Sylvester & Harvey Milk
Sylvester continued to reaffirm his connection to the gay community of San Francisco, performing at the main stage at the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade. Further, during his summer 1979 European Tour to Holland, Germany, Italy and the UK. In the United Kingdom, he performed at the London Gay Pride Festival in Hyde Park. They spread their glitter-riddled gospel all over the world.
That same year, Sylvester met singer Jeanie Tracy through Harvey Fuqua, and they immediately became good friends. A large black woman, Sylvester felt that Tracy would work well with his Two Tons O’ Fun, and invited her to join his backing singers, which she proceeded to do. Subsequently, befriending the Tons, she would work for Sylvester for the rest of his life.
On March 11, 1979, after two million selling albums, Sylvester, and his friends Martha Wash, Izora Rhodes, Jeanie Tracy, Sharon Hymes and Patrick Cowley, together with a large band, and the complete 26-piece San Francisco Symphony Orchestra blew of the roof of the 3,000-seat sold out War Memorial Opera House. San Francisco where Sylvester wore the moniker of the Queen of the Castro alongside his Disco title, he blends all the colors in his musical palette into a work of remarkable imagination and spirit.
A genuine original, he was the vèry first ‘modern’ artist to perform in a classic Opera House, he was one of that special breed of performers who come fully to life onstage, who have the unfailing instincts to ignite an audience with sophistication, sass, and style. In a business where clones abound, Sylvester was the real thing.
It was the first time èver in music history that a non-classic singer performed, with the whole orkestra, a concert on stage in an Opera House. Sylvester treated attendees to ballads, covers and medleys, in addition to Sylvester’s own hits. His falsetto sound was a mix of male and female voice. Most intriguing about the venue was the sheer range of material being performed. Sylvester covered everything from the Beatles ‘Blackbird’ to Billie Holiday’s ‘Lover Man’ to Barry Manilow’s ‘Could It Be Magic’. Sylvester’s reinterpretations of Thelma Houston’s Sharing Something Perfect Between Ourselves and Patti LaBelle’s ‘You Are My Friend’ where the standout of the show as it showcased the genius interplay Sylvester, Rhodes, Wash and Tracy utilized in their live performances. Everybody sang along to the ballad version of You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) at the end of the concert…. These last three songs where much more then just ‘beautiful songs’ in a time of the city’s mourning. There tittle’s say more then enough….
Sylvester, Living Proof, 1979 Live recorded at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, as first ‘non-classic’ act ever. Sylvester absolutely set the stage and paved the way for all the rest … in many many ways.
However, Sylvester’s celebratory music was the voice of gay pride. In bars, clubs and concert halls, Martha Wash, Izora Rhodes backed him. The night after his historical sold-out Sylvester Concert at the War Memeorial Opera House on March 11, Mayor Diana Feinstein declared it Sylvester Day and presented him the key to the city. The people where still mourning, but the Queen of Castro was their new hero, if he wasn’t already!
The Opera House gig was recorded, and subsequently released as a live double album, called Living Proof. The album contained a typically eclectic mix of blues, disco, funk and beautiful ballads. Sylvester feld that Living Proof, is “the best representation of what people had been writing about me since the day I started performing. All the energy is there”.
The voice of dance music Sylvester and the Two Tons of Fun (Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes) performing live ‘Can’t Stop Dancing’
On the double album ‘Living Proof’ are two studio recordings: ‘Can’t Stop Dancing’ and ‘In My Fantasy’. ‘Can’t Stop Dancing’, a single released from this album, was a huge hit in the disco clubs.
Sylvester, Stars, 1979
When Sylvester was invited to appear at the Stars party at the Embarcadero in May 1978 he was inspired to write the song ‘Star (Everybody is one)’ to celebrate the event. Stars was a huge disco extravaganza and set the standard for future parties in San Francisco. When you purchased your ticket for Stars you were given a can. After using a can opener to get to your ticket you also found a poster a brochure and a T-Shirt, quite a package! It was just one month before the Stars party when Sylvester and Patrick Cowley sat down and composed the song for the event.
Sylvester would proceed to tell the press that Stars was his first completely disco album, but that it would also probably be his last. He premiered the album’s four tracks – ‘Stars (Everybody Is One)’, ‘I Who Have Nothing’, ‘I Need Somebody To Love Tonight’ and ‘Body Strong’, on March 11, 1979, at a sold-out show in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.
Two months after the concert, on May 21, 1979, thousands of members of San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro District community took to the streets to protest the lenient sentence received by Supervisor Dan White for the murders of local politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Their anger–combined with the actions of police who arrived to quell the scene–soon boiled over into rioting. The resulting violence affected San Francisco’s LGBT community for decades to come. Sylvester’s voice helped foster that fight… ‘Everybody is a Star!’. From that moment ‘Stars’ became an anthem for the gay community.
1979 brought three Billboard awards and an appearance in the movie, The Rose, starring Bette Midler. Memorable: performing with Bette Midler ‘The Fire Down Below’.
In 1980, Sylvester also reached tabloid headlines after he was arrested on a visit to New York City, accused of being involved in the robbery of several rare coins. After three days of incarceration, he was released on a police bail of $30,000. Sylvester was never charged, and police later admitted their mistake after it was revealed that the real culprit had posed as Sylvester by signing cheques in his name.
Returning to San Francisco after this event, it was here that Sylvester produced his next album for Fantasy Records, ‘Sell My Soul’. Largely avoiding disco after the genre had become unpopular following the much publicized Disco Sucks movement, Sell My Soul instead represented a selection of soul-inspired dance tracks. Recorded in two weeks, Sylvester worked largely with backing singers and musicians whom he was unfamiliar with, and regular collaborators Rhodes and Cowley were entirely absent. Reviews were generally poor, describing the album as being average in quality. The only disco song on the album, ‘I Need You’, was released as a single, but fared poorly then. Later. ’till today, using ‘studio live session’ recording tapes, some great ‘remix’ versions appeard.
Sylvester Sell My Soul, 1980
Sylvester’s fifth and final album for Fantasy Records was ‘Too Hot to Sleep’, in which he once again eschewed disco for a series of groove soul tunes, ballads, and gospel-style tracks. Missing the Two Tons entirely, Tracy was instead accompanied by a new backing singer, Maurice ‘Mo’ Long, and because the three of them had all grown up in the Church of God in Christ, they decided to refer to themselves as the C.O.G.I.C. Singers. The album also featured a number of tracks in which Sylvester avoided his usual falsetto tones to sing in a baritone voice.
In 1978, he entered into a relationship with a young white model named John Maley; Sylvester later devoted the song ‘Can’t Forget the Love’ on his ‘Too Hot to Sleep’ album to his young lover. Maley ended the relationship to move to Los Angeles, later recollecting that Sylvester “was a lovely man, and I owe him a lot”. In 1981, Sylvester entered into a relationship with a slim brunette from Deep River, Connecticut, named Michael Rayner. Living in San Francisco, Michael Rayner, a floral designer, unlike his predecessors, did not move into Sylvester’s house. Their partnership ended when Rayner admitted that he had not fallen completely in love with Sylvester. But their friendship stayed. Michael Rayner was considered a star in his trade, a master of his craft, and widely admired for creating truly innovative floral arrangements. These beautiful flower arrangements you could find on Sylvester’s Art Deco’s tables, and on stage.
On jazz pianist Herbie Hancock’s thirty-second album ‘Magic Window’ – released on September 29, 1981 – Sylvester sung ‘Magic Number’ also in his ‘low-voice’, together with Jeanie Tracy on backingvocals, Ray Parker Jr. on guitar and Sheila Escovedo on percussion. ‘Magic Number’ was available in several different (long)versions.
1981 Sylvester Too Hot To Sleep
1981 Sylvester Too Hot To Sleep (second cover)
Disco star Sylvester performs on the stairs at Greg’s Blue Dot in Hollywood, a popular gay club back in 1981. He is introduced by owner Greg Hammond
With the success of these world wide hits came more time under the often harsh and conservative public spotlight. Sylvester kept his unabashed flame on high whether performing for the very white, afternoon, talk show, television circuit or for a writhing throng of his adoring people at San Francisco’s largest dance club, The Trocadero.
Both the Two Tons and Sylvester came to suspect that Fantasy Records had failed to pay them all of the money that they were owed from the sale of their records. Sylvester left Fantasy and in November 1982 he filed a lawsuit against them; it ultimately proved successful in establishing that the company had been withholding money from him totaling $218,112.50. Nevertheless, Fuqua proved unable to pay anything more than $20,000, meaning that Sylvester never saw the majority of the money that was legally owed to him. Sylvester grew to despise Fuqua, and forbade his friends from ever mentioning his name.
They created the so called ‘Megatone’ sound. A true Hit machine with artist like Paul Parker, Jeanie Tracy and Sarah Dash. On many of their hits you hear Sylvester’s voice as backing vocal.
Sylvester eventually left Fantasy Records joining forces with his friend and Dance music mentor, Patrick Crowley and his partner Marty Blecman, at Magatone Records ensconced in the Castro on Noe Street. Sylvester and Megatone created four more albums and the mega huge, infectious dance track ‘Do You Wanna Funk?’
Sylvester, All I Need, 1982 with the hits ‘Do You Wana Funk’, ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Be With You’
Sylvester’s ‘girls’, the Two Ton’s of Fun, transformed as well. The duo was renamed The Weather Girls in 1982 after they released the top-selling single ‘It’s Raining Men’, “Hi, we are your weather girls”. ‘It’s Raining Men’ brought them to mainstream pop attention, and continues, like Sylvester’s songs, to be played the world over.
In 1982, Patrick Crowley tragically died, during those very early days in the Age of AIDS, not long after he founded Megatone Records, and the huge succes of the album ‘All I Need’, his own album ‘Mind Warp’, and Paul Parker’s ‘Too Much To Dream’ with the mega-hit ‘Right On Target’. Sarah Dash her album was sadly not finnished. Only two songs were released, “Low Down Dirty Rythem’ and ‘Lucky Tonight’ together with background vocals by Sylvester and Jeanie Tracy.
Sylvester, Call Me, 1983
In 1983, Sylvester became a partner of Megatone Records. That year he also brought out his second album with the company, ‘Call Me’, but it was not a big commercial success. Four songs from the album were released as singles, although only ‘Trouble in Paradise’ entered the top 20 of the U.S. dance charts; Sylvester later related that the song was his ‘AIDS message to San Francisco’.”
Sylvester was emotionally moved by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and began helping out at the Rita Rockett Lounge for patients of the disease at the San Francisco General Hospital as well as performing at various benefit concerts to raise money and awareness to combat the spread of the disease. In February 1984 he also performed a ‘One Night Only’ retrospective of his work at the prestigious Castro Theatre.
Sylvester still toured both domestically and in Europe, although he found that demand for his performances was decreasing, and that he was now playing to smaller venues and singing to a pre-recorded tape rather than to a live band as he had in the late 1970s
Sylvester M-1015, 1984 with dance hits ‘Rock The Box’, Take Me To Heaven’ and the amazingly beautiful ballad ‘Shadow Of A Heart’
His next album, entitled ‘M-1015’ (1984), was more frenetic and pumping than his previous releases, having embraced the recently developed genre of Hi-NRG, but it also included elements of electro . The major figures behind the album had been Kessie and Morey Goldstein, and Sylvester himself had not written any of the tracks. The album also contained increasingly sexually explicit lyrics, in particular in the songs ‘How Do You Like Your Love’ and ‘Seks’.
1984 was also the year that he did a duet with singer Earlene Bentley, who worked often with British songwriter, producer, and DJ, Ian Levine, who loved her outrageous, campy vocal style. ‘Stargazing’ became a hit in the United Kingdom. That year, he also entered into a relationship with an architect named Rick Cramner, and together they moved into a new apartment in the hills, where Sylvester decorated his powder room with posters and memorabilia of Divine, the drag queen, actor and singer whom he had briefly known when they were in The Cockettes.
In 1985, he fulfilled a lifelong ambition by working with the singer Aretha Franklin. Doing background vocals before, ione of his dreams came true as he was summoned to sing back-up vocals – together with best-friend Jeanie Tracy – for Aretha Franklin on her Who’s Zoomin’ Who comeback album.
Jim Gilstrap, Vicki Randle, Jeanie Tracy and Sylvester had a great time during the Aretha sessions, 1985
Sylvester, vèry rare live performance, ‘Stormy Weather’
That same year, Sylvester’s boyfriend, Rick Cranmer, discovered that he was HIV positive. When he died in September 1987, Sylvester lived in denial about his own status and decided not to get to tested, even when he developed a persistent cough, often a sign of a late-stage HIV infection.
Despite this, Sylvester began work on an album, moved into a new apartment in the Castro, and continued to perform. However with his health deteriorating, he was unable to embark on a full tour.
As the panic and reality around the pandemic gained steam-cutting down man after man in his prime during the eighties Sylvester worked tirelessly on many AIDS benefits, many times together with Joan Rivers, long before others did. He help raise much needed funds and awareness about the disease until his own HIV infection began to take it’s toll.
Sylvester’s final album, ‘Mutual Attraction’ (1986), was produced by Megatone but licensed and released by Warner Bros. On the album, Sylvester had worked with a wide number of collaborators, and included new tracks alongside covers of songs by Stevie Wonder and George Gershwin. Mutual Attraction gave us some great songs, like ‘Living For the City’ (Stevie Wonder), the tittle song ‘Mutual Attraction’, and million seller ‘Someone Like You’, that reached number one on the Billboard dance charts. The 12-inch single of ‘Someone Like You’ featured an original cover art by Keith Haring.
Warner Bros booked him to appear on the New Year’s Eve edition of The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, during which Joan Rivers described him as a drag queen; he corrected her by stating that he was not a drag queen, proclaiming simply “I’m Sylvester!” The appearance was also notable for Sylvester publicly declaring his relationship with Rick Cranmer despite the fact that Cranmer’s family were largely unaware of either the liaison or his sexuality.
Sylvester, Mutual Attraction, 1986
In 1986 Sylvester teamed up with Until December. Fronted by Consolidated’s Adam Sherburne, Until December was a dance-oriented rock band based in San Francisco that was active in the early to late 1980s. Their self-titled album ‘Until December’ was released in 1985 on 415 Records, which contained their biggest hit ‘Heaven’. Other notable tunes were ‘Until December’, ‘Live Alone In Shame’, and ‘Free Again’. Until December toured the U.S. as a headliner and with seminal 80’s bands such as Yazoo and New Order. The band was especially popular in the leather subculture.
Sylvester, and Until December re-recorded the song ‘Free Again’, with vocals by Until December’s frontman Adam Sherburne and Sylvester, and with backing vocals by Sylvester and Kitty von Beethoven. ‘Free Again’ was available in different remix versions (Free Again My Sin, Free Again Touch Me, a.o.). Some remixed by Ken Kessie (Megatone)
In late 1987, Sylvester was hospitalized for sinus surgery, having been diagnosed with AIDS. On discharge from hospital, he was looked after by his mother and his background singer and friend Jeanie Tracy. However, in May 1988, he was hospitalized again this time due to pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP).
Returning home, Sylvester wrote his will. He would never perform again. Although, he had lost a considerable amount of weight and was unable to walk, his last public appearance was at the Castro Street Fair in October of 1988. The MC on the main stage introduced him pointing up to where he sat on his apartment balcony overlooking the Fair action at Castro and Market. The crowd, numbering in the tens of thousands, gave him a rousing ovation that lasted for nearly 15 minutes. People openly wept realizing, as he frailly waved to the crowd from his wheelchair – being pushed along the entire route by his manager Tim Mckenna, who also had AIDS. McKenna died on January 3, 1990 -, soaking in the love that showered down on him. Most realized in all likelihood this would be the last time any of us would ever see our hero. “He’s allowing us to celebrate his life before his death, and I don’t know a single star who has the integrity to do that,” the novelist Armistead Maupin wrote afterward.
Sylvester was open about the fact that he was dying, and continued to give interviews to the media. His main focus was to highlight the impact AIDS was having in the African-American community.
Sylvester died two months later at the age of 41 on December 16th, 1988. Two weeks before Sylvester died, he told his minister of the Love Center Church in East Oakland, that he was ‘ready’. For Thanksgiving 1988, his family spent the holiday with him, although he had developed neuropathy and was increasingly bed-ridden and reliant on morphine. His good friend Jeanie Tracy took care of Sylvester during his last days.
Sylvester had planned his own funeral, insisting that he be dressed in a red kimono and placed in an open-top coffin for the mourners to see, with his friend Yvette Flunder doing his corpse’s makeup. He wanted Jeanie Tracy to sing at his funeral, accompanied by choirs and many flowers. The whole affair took place in his church, the Love Center, with a sermon being provided by Reverend Walter Hawkins. The event was packed, with standing room only, and the coffin was subsequently taken and buried at his family’s plot in Inglewood park Cemetery.
After his death, Megatone Records launched Immortal, the unfinnished album. Pressure from the label to ‘butch up’ his image would result in him attending meetings in full-on drag. A drag photo shoot, which he staged and presented to label heads as a gag (calling it his ‘new album cover’) would later grace the cover of Immortal after Sylvester died; it was the label’s way of paying tribute to his spirit. It contained Sylvester’s final studio recordings and was compiled by Marty Blecman.
Sylvester, Immortal, 1989 His ‘unfinnished’ last album
In the late 1990’s, performance artist Djola Branner (co-founder of the highly influential Pomo Afro Homos troupe) created his acclaimed solo piece and CD Mighty Real around the life of Sylvester. On September 20, 2004 Sylvester’s anthem record, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. A year later, on September 19, 2005, Sylvester himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievement as an artist. A biography of Sylvester, titled ‘The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, The Music’ was authored by Gamson and published in the same year.
You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2018, formally confirming Sylvester’s impact on American culture at large. In 2010, the TV series Unsung aired an episode on Sylvester, that was later made available through YouTube. ‘Sylvester: Mighty Real’, an official feature-length documentary on the life and career of Sylvester, entered production; it featured interviews with members of Sylvester’s family and other artists and musicians who have been inspired by, but by 2012 the film’s progress had halted.
In August 2014, an Off-Broadway musical titled ‘Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical’ opened at Theatre At St. Clement’s in New York City. It was co-directed by Kendrell Bowman and Anthony Wayne, the latter of whom also performed as the titular character. Wayne stated that he discovered Sylvester’s story through a television documentary, and was subsequently “inspired by his drive to be who he was regardless of what he went through”, performing a concert of Sylvester’s songs with friends Anastacia McCleskey and Jacqueline B. Arnold as the Two Tons o’ Fun before deciding to begin work on the musical.
In 2014 Sylvester was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco’s Castro’s neighborhoud noting LGBTQ people who have ‘made significant contributions in their fields’.
Till today, we hear Sylvester’s songs in clubs and on the radio. Many of them are timeless. Also populair by other great artist like Jimmy Somerville and Jason Walker
Jimmy Sommerville performing live ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) at les années bonheur de Patrick Sébastien. He makes us feel mighty real!!
Sylvester and Patrick Cowley’s ‘I Need Somebody To Love Tonight’ sung by ‘wonderboy’ Jason Walker
I often think about what Sylvester might think about the world we live in today. What would he sing today? How would he feel about Pose on television? How would he feel about the rising of so many black queer artists working of the camera (or microphone) and behind the scenes? How he’d feel that he birthed a generation – black – gay men that dream dreams that are big and ambitious. My hope is he would feel mighty real.
Playing as a child in the garden of Yakymour. A happy, innocent time, thanx to ‘Grandma’ Om Habibeh ‘Mata Salamat’ Aga Khan and to Sadruddin, where I could be fully myself and forget ‘the bad things’, and get some strenght
Yakymour, the house of the Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan. She was born Yvette Blanche Labrousse in 1906, of a father who was a tramway driver and a town councillor for Le Cannet and a mother who was a seamstress. Nothing in her modest upbringing told anything of the glorious destiny that was to be hers. After bieng elected Miss Lyon in 1929, then Miss France in Paris in 1930, she joined the Miss Europe 1930 pageant in Paris, won by Miss Greece. She started to travel around the world and settled in Egypt.
Yakymour, in her own handwriting, on the wall next to the gate of her home.
There Yvette Labrousse met her future husband, the Sultan Aga Khan III, 48th Imam of the Nizari Shia Ismaili community, whom she married on 9 October 1944 in Switzerland, and took the name of Om Habibeh (Little Mother of the Beloved) and became Begum, fully Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan. In 1954, Om Habibeh was given the title of ‘Mata Salamat’, which literally means serene or peaceful mother. She was the foutyh womn in Islamic history with that title! They settled in the Avenue Victoria villa at Le Cannet, above Cannes, on a hillside wich she had once looked on to from the flat in the Rue d’Antibes, for which planning permission applications had been submitted in 1937.
HH Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan III
They named it Yakymour: Y for Yvette, ak for Aga Khan, mour for amour. Within this property surrounded by parkland, Her Higness La Bégum used to assemble the members of the Cannes film festival jury. When her husband died in 1957, he had stated in his will that his successor, his grandson Karim, would have Om Habibeh as advisor for the first seven years of his reign. Om Habibeh started building at Aswan, on top of the hill above there house, a mausoleum to her husband, immediately after his death, while finishing it took 16 months.
Her gesture of daily placing a red rose on her husband’s tomb while in Egypt (every day for 43 years, either the Begum or when she was away in Europe, Sheikh Ahmed Ibrahim, whom she hired in 1963 to spend eight hours a day chanting verses from the Koran over her late husband’s tomb, laid a fresh red rose there) enforced the reputation of the legendary romance between the Aga Khan III and Om Habebeh. After the death of her husband, she continued to live at Yakymour, though she always spent three months a year in the villa at Aswan, the site of her husband’s mausoleum.
Yakymour, Le Cannet, France
As a widow, she travelled widely both for charity and for pleasure. She was a regular face at Ascot (she herself owned several horses), where she always caught the eye. In the 1950’s and 60’s she was a true fashion icon, and was a countless times on the cover of big magazines. Her advice on fashion was typically sensible: “Don’t choose what you like, but what suits you. To be elegant one must have discretion. The secret is in the details”. She was dearly loved by her people because of her generosity to the poor, childern, women and the elderly, and, by her own husband as well. She had a big heart for everybody. Also for people outside the Shia Ismaili community. No matter what kind of religion, man or women, or even sexual oriantation, she was véry openminded, Yakymour was an open house.
She also loved annimals a lot. Over the years she had several dogs and cats. ‘Every person and every animal should be loved, we are all creations from Allah. When a person is not good for animals, he can not be good to humans’. ‘We should take care of eachother, everybody should be loved!, We are here on earth to do good, and not to harm or judge people, so lets love’…. And that’s what she did!
HH Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan III
Beauty was not only on the outside. It came from the heart. Highly popular, Her Highness La Bégum showed great generosity throughout her life. She made many donations to schools (‘education is the most impotant thing in life after being loved’ and ‘The highest result of education is tolerance’ she always said) and hospitals. But also donations to women’s shelters, Alzheimer foundation, and… Aids foundation.
For over forty years, banquets were offered to the town’s elderly inhabitants. The Begum also ran a charitable foundation (Om Habibeh Foundation) which tackled poverty in Aswan, Egypt, where she inherited her husband’s villa by the Nile. At home in Cannes, she established a home for the elderly. It was not in her nature either to forget, or to try to hide, her humble origins. In the last years of her life, she made an outstanding donation to the town, enabling it to renew its school property. She also contributed to the creation of the Jardin des Oliviers, for which the town showed its gratitude by erecting a bronze statue by Charles-Louis La Salle, in her image. She last appeared in public for the inauguration of this garden in 1997
But there was no doubting her enduring devotion. “Now all I have left to hope for”, she said shortly before her death, is that Allah will take me to his side”. Begum Om Habibeh ‘Mata Salamat’ aka Yvette Labrousse died on 1 July 2000, in Le Cannet, near Cannes, at the age of 94 years, and is buried next to her beloved husband at the Aga Khan’s sandstone mausoleum in Aswan. The couple had no children. She was survived by her stepson, Sadruddin Aga Khan, and three step-grandchildren, Karim Aga Khan the current Aga Khan, Amyn Aga Khan and Yasmin Aga Khan. She has now been reunited with her husband, who has been resting, since 1957, in a mausoleum built on their Nour es-Salam property, near the River Nile, in Aswan, Egypt. ‘Till today she is very respected and loved. For her eternal love, her honesty, her help (she hated the word ‘charity’!) and being só openminded…..
Om Habibeh, ‘Yaky’ I love you! Thanx for everything you showed me and teached me! Love always!
Nicole Brühl, Renate Thyssen-Henne and Princess Gabriele zu Leiningen
Entrepreneur Renate Tyssen-Henne hands over the management of her ‘SOS Project’, which is involved in animal welfare, to Nicole Brühl. The daughter of actress Heidi Brühl is an ideal cast also finds Gabriele Princess zu Leiningen.
Society Lady and entrepreneur Renate Thyssen-Henne started – 12 years ago – together with her daughter Gabriele Princess zu Leiningen and her husband Ernst Theodor Henne the project ‘Sonnenhof’ in Rottenbuch and the aid organization ‘SOS Projects for Man and Animal e.V.’. It became a real showcase project, for which many stars and celebrities – like Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Kirstin Davis, Dieter Bohlen and many others – are involved and enthusiastic. Now ‘SOS Projects’ gets a new direction: Nicole Brühl, daughter of the actress Heidi Brühl, takes over the management. Renate Thyssen-Henne searched for her successor for almost two years, because she cares deeply about the future of the Sonnenhof and its inhabitants.
It is not easy to pass on a project that you have built yourself with great love, time and, of course, great financial resources.
With Nicole Brühl, who, like her deceased mother Heidi, has been involved in animal welfare for years, a worthy successor has been found. Gabriele Princess zu Leiningen sees in Nicole Brühl also ‘the ideal occupation’ and adds: “On the Sonnenhof in recent years, 3,200 maltreated dogs were admitted, medically treated, cared for and then placed in a loving home”. All this Nicole Brühl wants to continue and also take care of confiscated puppies from illegal puppy transports and for large and wild animals.
Renate Thyssen-Henne and her daughter will in the future support the new board as honorary presidents and continue to represent the projects. Nicole Brühl can therefore rely on two proven and energetic helpers in her new task.