Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →


Often described as the “Queen of Disco,” Sylvester James, Jr., was born and raised in the African American Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. His grandmother, Julia Morgan, had been a blues singer in the 1930s, and as a child Sylvester was already singing and touring in the gospel choirs of Pentacostal churches. But his refusal to hide his sexual orientation led to a break with the church. Moving to San Francisco in the late 1960s, he performed in a number of house bands and singing groups, and in the early 1970s was a member of the Cockettes, a cross-dressing performance group that defied and made fun of gender conventions. By the mid-70s, he was performing a mixture of disco and soul, with female back-up singers, and recorded such hit songs as “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.” Known for his falsetto voice and wildly flamboyant costumes, Sylvester often performed at gay community festivals and events. Diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, he led that year’s San Francisco Pride Parade in a wheel chair. He died on December 16, 1988 from complications due to AIDS. In 2013, a collection of his music from the late 1970s was re-issued under the title “Mighty Real.”