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Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti in the video for Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’
04.04.2017
02:56 pm
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A few nights ago I accompanied my wife to the ER. Before we left for the hospital I grabbed Cosey Fanni Tutti’s newly published autobiography Art Sex Music (Faber & Faber) and I’m glad I did. While we waited and waited (and then waited some more) I got really engrossed in what is easily my favorite book of 2017 so far, even as I haven’t finished it yet. After about three hours, when they finally called her name, I looked up from its pages and it felt like my neck was stuck and that I needed to see a doctor myself. It’s a fascinating read and I’m hoping I’ll be able to interview Cosey about it here in the coming weeks. (Quite a good excerpt appeared recently at The Guardian’s website.)

Now I don’t know yet if she actually mentions this in the book as I’m still a year or so behind in the narrative, but in 1978 Cosey appeared as a disco-dancing extra in the promo video that was shot for Sylvester’s immortal classic “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”!

She was asked about this by John Doran a writer for The Quietus in 2015:

Cosey, were you really in the video to “Mighty Real” by Sylvester?

Cosey: Yeah.

I love that song….

Cosey: It’s a great song. I was with a stripping agency because I was stripping at the time and for whatever reason, whoever was filming the video for him wanted to have dancers. So they got some dancers from Pineapple Studios in London. So they had orthodox dancers and they also wanted people that just danced. And not just disco dancers but people who were used to dancing in front of an audience or in front of cameras so they rang our agency. Three of us went down to the shoot (one of them was French Jane who used to do go-go dancing for The Who). All of us were given white satin shorts because it was at the Embassy Club and all of the male waiters there used to wear white satin shorts. Sylvester wanted the men in the shorts but he was stuck with these ten dancing girls instead. So the director said, ‘Will you dance to the music?’ Like you said, it’s a fantastic song but these Pineapple Studio girls were going, ‘...2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7, 8, 9, 10…’ [mimes intricate but stiff dance routine] And I was thinking, ‘Fuck me, it’s so regimented - why don’t you just listen to the record and dance?’ I think the director ended up using us and one or two of the girls from Pineapple who could let loose a little bit. But Sylvester got the boys in at the end. I think you can see them at the end of the video. He did get his way. I kept my shorts and I made a pattern off them so I could make some more pairs. They were really good for stripping in.

See the video, after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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04.04.2017
02:56 pm
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Fantastic posters for the Cockettes, Divine, Sylvester by Todd Trexler
06.04.2014
01:09 pm
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Trexler
 
In San Francisco in the 1970s, Todd Trexler was one of the most prolific and sought-after poster artists for the city’s predictably amazing drag scene. He generated many posters for the Nocturnal Dream Shows and midnight movie screenings at the Palace Theater on 1741 Powell Street (it was also called the Pagoda later on). His attention-grabbing yet stately posters captured and perhaps helped define the distinct aesthetic of San Francisco’s drag happenings. The contrast of art deco filigrees to big personalities like Divine and the Cockettes is very effective.

Sadly, Trexler passed away in February of this year, at the age of 70. His essential posters can be seen in an exhibition that opens this week at Magnet (4122 18th Street) in the Castro district. Some of the items have not been on display in 40 years.

As an art student in 1968, Trexler began making posters, many of them hand-drawn. He was close with Sebastian (or, as he was also known, Milton Miron), a key member of the Cockettes. Todd continued to do work for them for a number of years in the 70s, before moving to Monterey to attend nursing school in 1979.

Here’s Trexler on the “Divine Saves the World” poster shown above:
 

I absolutely adored working with Glenn on the few occasions that I did! The day that we planned to take photos for the VICE PALACE poster I’ll never forget. Glenn and I sat in the back seat of a car with Sebastian in the front. We drove around San Francisco looking for a place to use as a backdrop. We ended up at the Palace of Fine Arts and decided it was perfect! Glenn was in makeup, bib-overalls with the sides split to make them large enough. He had tossed a couple of 50’s net prom dresses in the trunk of the car. He slipped into a pair of open-toed backless mules and wrapped the prom dresses around himself and instantly became DIVINE! I took the photo and that poster is an all- time favorite of my poster career.

 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
Todd Trexler
 
More dazzling posters plus an interview clip with the artist after the jump…..

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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06.04.2014
01:09 pm
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Sylvester’s dog Princess Terry receives “celebrity pet” award, Castro Street Dog Show, 1984
12.17.2013
01:02 pm
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Damn my terrible timing! Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of Sylvester; queer icon, incredible vocalist and Disco Diva extraordinaire. Well, I may be 24 hours late, but I couldn’t let another day pass without posting something in tribute here on DM.

And what a doozy of a clip! Yes, it’s Sylvester at the Castro Street Dog Fair in 1984, receiving the “celebrity pet” award on behalf of his pup, Princess Terry, from former Catwoman Lee Meriwether, all under the watchful gaze of a leather-vested cowboy. Yep. It really doesn’t get any more camp than this.

R.I.P. Queen Sylvester, you will forever be missed!
 

 
Major H/T to Matthew Hill!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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12.17.2013
01:02 pm
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Happy Birthday Sylvester
09.06.2013
08:18 pm
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retsevlyslaer
 
Happy Birthday to Sylvester, the “Queen of Disco,” who would have been 66-years-old today.

As m’colleague Niall O’Conghaile has previously written:

If there’s any one artist who represents everything that was revolutionary about disco music, it was Sylvester. It doesn’t matter how many Bee Gees, Ethel Mermans, Rod Stewarts, Boney Ms et al you can throw at the genre as a reason to hate it, the fact is that if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.

Sylvester broke every taboo going. In fact he didn’t just break them: he tore them up, threw them on the floor and stamped on them with uproarious glee, all while dragging you out to dance with his irresistable energy. He didn’t have to shout about any of his social or political inclinations because he was already living them, out in the open, for everyone to see.

Sylvester didn’t make “political music” because he didn’t have to: Sylvester’s very existence was inherently political.

Sylvester James jnr. was born in Watts, Los Angeles, on September 6th 1947. He started his singing career with the choir at his local Pentecostal Church. Openly gay from a very early age, Sylvester quit the church allegedly aged 13, after being persecuted by the Jesus-lovers, who it has been said would beat him, punch him and spit on him, for having a consensual relationship with a much older “man of the cloth.” Even so, Sylvester would retain a deep love of the church and Gospel-singing.

By 16, Sylvester was homeless and living by his wits. But his desire to sing eventually led him to start a band of black cross-dressers and trans-women called The Disquotays—this at a time when it was possible to be arrested in LA and charged with “masturbation” for cross-dressing in public. After The Disquotays disbanded in 1970, Sylvester joined the legendary, radical, hippie, drag troupe The Cockettes, performing with them in San Francisco, where he became a major sensation—receiving standing ovations whenever he performed. When The Cockettes toured New York to negative reviews, Sylvester quit the band (famously making his announcement to quit onstage) and began his solo career - performing and recording his first album with backing group The Hot Men, then gigging with three of The Pointer Sisters as his backing.

However, it was his teaming with Two Tons of Fun (later known as The Weather Girls of “It’s Raining Men” fame), that Sylvester became the major star of Disco and Soul. As his biographer Joshua Gamson wrote in The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the 70s in San Francisco:

“Something clicked and sighed into place when Sylvester and the Tons got together – something that wasn’t there with the Hot Band white boys, for all that they could cook; something that wasn’t there with Peter Mintum, for all the beautiful oddness that he and Sylvester shared; something that wasn’t even there with the black drag-queen singers, for all the fierceness they projected. Izora and Martha were whom he came from and who he was… They were women who got their own. They sounded right with Sylvester, and looked just right, one on either side of him. Plus, next to them, Sylvester, who had grown quite round, looked positively svelte.”

In 1977, Sylvester relased his self-titled album, followed by the superb Step II in 1978, from which came his best known single (originally a Gospel tune) “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”

Happy Birthday Sylvester—supreme singer, performer and “Queen of Disco”!
 

 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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09.06.2013
08:18 pm
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Excellent documentary on the life of Sylvester

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If there’s any one artist who represents everything that was revolutionary about disco music, it was Sylvester. It doesn’t matter how many Bee Gees, Ethel Mermans, Rod Stewarts, Boney Ms et al you can throw at the genre as a reason to hate it, the fact is that if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.

Sylvester broke every taboo going. In fact he didn’t just break them: he tore them up, threw them on the floor and stamped on them with uproarious glee, all while dragging you out to dance with his irresistable energy. He didn’t have to shout about any of his social or political inclinations because he was already living them, out in the open, for everyone to see.

Sylvester didn’t make “political music” because he didn’t have to: Sylvester’s very existence was inherently political.

That to me is the rub when it comes down to “disco” versus “punk”, and all that bullshit snobbery and scorn rock fans heaped on disco. Contrast Sylvester with any one of the gangs of middle class, straight, angry-at-whatever white boys that were supposedly turning the world upside down in the name of “punk” and it becomes clear who was really pushing social boundaries.

The fact that the music was instantaneous and accessible only deepens the subversive effect. It’s unfortunate that “disco” has become an easy way to dismiss that which genuinely does not fit the rock cannon’s hardened mould, be it for reasons of race, gender or sexuality, but the music itself never died away. It reverberates still with an incredible, universal power. Sylvester was a supremely talented vocalist and performer, and I just couldn’t take seriously any music aficionado who claimed not to be moved by “(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real” (not to mention “I Who Have Nothing,” “I Need You,” “Do You Wanna Funk,” “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight,” etc, etc.)

And besides, if I had a choice between a bunch of white punk boys or black drag queens, I know who I’d rather party with.

Unsung is a series produced by TV One profiling some of the more over-looked, yet supremely talented, names in black music from the 70s and 80s. There’s much to enjoy here if soul, funk and R&B are your thing. Other artists covered include Teddy Pendergrass, Zapp, Rose Royce, the Spinners and many more.

But for now let’s just enjoy the uplifting, touching and ultimately tragic story of the real queen of disco music:
 

 
Thanks to Paul Gallagher!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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03.04.2012
07:53 pm
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Disco goddess Sylvester plays live underground, 1979

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San Francisco disco diva Sylvester James’s appearance at a dance party in a subterranean SF Muni station in the Castro district in 1979 couldn’t have been more fraught. The neighborhood had just been shaken to the core the previous fall with the shooting death of Harvey Milk, SF’s first openly gay supervisor. Ahead lay the AIDS epidemic, which would eventually take Sylvester himself 22 years ago this week at age 41.

But on that night, Sylvester was at the peak of his success. He was just about to release his 5th album, Stars, the follow-up to 1978’s Step II, which had hit #7 on the American R&B charts and included one of gay America’s legendary anthems, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” After his first taste of mainstream success, and after nine years of the official Gay Pride parade in San Francisco, after coming this far, perhaps it seemed fitting for the community to get back to its roots and and take the party underground again.
 
Thanks to Erica Green for bringing this to my attention…
 

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann
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12.17.2010
02:00 am
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Walter & Sylvester: The Reverend & the Disco Queen

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If you’re like me, your atheism has been challenged by the sheer force of certain metaphysically oriented artforms. One of those forms for me is African-American gospel music. One of the greats of that genre, the Grammy-winning Rev. Walter Hawkins, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer. Hawkins had plenty of Billboard chart success leading his Love Center Choir. Significantly, he’ll also be remembered as head of an Oakland, CA church that wholly embraced and was supported by folks like disco singer, drag queen and gay icon Sylvester.

Hawkins’ initial success came as part of his brother’s group the Edwin Hawkins Singers, which had a crossover hit with 1967’s “Oh Happy Day.” According to Joshua Gamson’s The Fabulous Sylvester, the Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco:

Hawkins was one of those who left church, but as he grew older he started looking for a way to bring together “all those young people who I knew could not survive in a traditional church setting.”

One of those was the young Sylvester James, who was a well-known child gospel singer in his LA hometown before running away and eventually moving to San Francisco. By the time he’d arrived at Hawkins’ Bible study group-turned-church the Love Center, Sylvester had already done a short stint with local psychedelic drag performance group The Cockettes and performed with the then-unknown Pointer Sisters. When he tells the anecdote about Love Center members’ jaded acceptance of a prostitute into their ranks, Gamson notes: “They took the same attitude to Sylvester. His strangeness, when it was even noticed, was beloved.” In fact, the Love Center Choir would appear on numerous mid-‘80s Sylvester tunes, including “Call Me” and his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.”

When Sylvester died of complications from AIDS in 1988 at age 41, his memorial service was held at the Love Center. According to J. Matthew Cobb of Prayzehymm Online, the gospel industry and the black church in general has a lot of work to do with regards to its gay membership. 

Hats off to Reverend Hawkins. 
 

 
Get: Walter Hawkins and the Love Center Choir: Love Alive - 25th Anniversary Reunion, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 [CD]
 
Get: Sylvester - Mutual Attraction [CD]

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann
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07.12.2010
08:41 pm
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Patrick Cowley: MENERGY!
10.13.2009
04:04 am
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I heard about this venerable jam at Burning Man a couple years back. It’s undeniable. Just undeniable. I mean, how can you go wrong with a beat like THAT and lyrics like THIS:

The guys on the sidewalk
Workin’ it out,
Talkin’ ‘bout Menergy.

Menergy…Menergy…Menergy…

The boys in the back room
Laughin’ it up,
Shootin’ off energy,
The guys in the street talk checkin’ you out,
Talkin’ ‘bout Menergy.

I laughed. Twice.

Cowley, a groundbreaking Hi-NRG producer was, sadly, one of the first victims of AIDS; his influence lived in 1980s dance acts like New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. You can hear that pretty clearly in this funky jam, which also stars the vocal stylings of Sylvester.

Posted by Jason Louv
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10.13.2009
04:04 am
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