‘He was brave and defiant’: the lost jazz and blues songs of disco icon Sylvester

Years before You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) made him a star and LGBTQ+ hero, Sylvester’s music was very different. His pianist recalls their astonishing sessions together in San Francisco

On Fridays and Saturdays after midnight in the early 1970s, in a movie theatre in San Francisco’s Little Italy, a 22-year-old would walk on its stage and sing. Wearing high platform shoes, glamorous vintage clothes and accessories, and a glittering turban or pompadour wig, he performed the torch songs and blues of early-to-mid 20th-century America, music far away from the futuristic sounds that would later make him famous.

Eight years before his hi-NRG anthem You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) became a global disco hit – and a landmark moment for LGBTQ+ artists in pop – Sylvester’s musical career began at the Palace Theatre in North Beach, San Francisco, accompanied by his pianist friend Peter Mintun. Mintun taped their intimate rehearsals, and this month underground label Dark Entries have released them: beautiful, intimate recordings, showcasing Sylvester’s showstopping falsetto, his emotional range, and the lost depths of his talents.

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