Sylvester James was born September 6, 1947 in Los Angeles, California an was known for his flamboyant and androgynous appearance, he was often described as a drag queen, although repeatedly rejected such a description. Responsible for a string of hit singles, in the late 1970s, Sylvester became known in the United States under the moniker of the "Queen of Disco".
Sylvester first developed a love of singing through the gospel choirs of his Pentecostal church, however left the congregation after being persecuted for his homosexuality. Leaving home as a teenager, he was an early founder of a group of African-American cross-dressers and transwomen known as The Disquotays, who eventually disbanded in 1970. Moving to San Francisco, he embraced the counter-cultural lifestyle and joined drag troupe The Cockettes, eventually producing his own solo shows in which he was heavily influenced by female blues and jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. It the middle of their critically panned tour of New York City, Sylvester left the Cockettes and decided to focus entirely on a solo career.
As the front man for Sylvester and his Hot Band, he released two commercially unsuccessful albums on Blue Thumb Records in 1973 before the members of the Hot Band left him. Gaining new backing singers in the form of Two Tons O' Fun and subsequently Jeanie Tracy, he proceeded to obtain a new recording contract with Harvey Fuqua of Fantasy Records.
His first solo and third studio album, Sylvester was released in 1977. It was his first disco album in the series of three that were recorded and released by Fantasy Records in the late 1970s. The album was issued with the alternative title "Over And Over" in France.
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 Ashford & Simpson failed to make any impression on the charts.
The album was followed by the acclaimed disco masterpiece, Step II (1978), which spawned the hit singles "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)". He produced three more albums with Fantasy Records before breaking from them un-amicably.
Signing to Megatone Records, the dance-orientated label founded by his friend and collaborator Patrick Cowley, he produced four further albums and the hit Hi-NRG track "Do Ya Wanna Funk". The song was released in 1982 and it was produced by Patrick Cowley, who incidentally died the same year. "Do Ya Wanna Funk" was mostly successful in Europe, especially Switzerland, Netherlands, Norway (where it became a top-10 hit) and even in the United Kingdom where it made the top 40. It also made the Top 30 in Australia.
An activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS, Sylvester died from complications arising from the virus in 1988. 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.