Happy Saturday eveyone! Today’s Black History Month LGBT+ hero is Sylvester, nominated by Pride Performer Sue Lane. Sue says: Sylvester arguably moved disco in a new direction, although he hadn’t intended to be a disco star. His soaring falsetto voice worked perfectly with his fabulous backing singers, Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes-Armstead, giving us the enduring ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). And his versions of songs such as ‘Blackbird’ are gorgeous and innovative. Mostly I love him because he was unafraid to be himself, saying, “Sometimes, folks make us feel strange, but we’re not strange. And those folks – they’ll just have to catch up.”
Watch You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) here:
Steve Lunniss from Sing with Pride choir added this information about Sylvester to our Facebook post:
For me, Sylvester was a true out and proud hero. He was taken far too quickly from us after an AIDS diagnosis. Typically, he didn’t hide this, despite it being a time when there was terrible stigma around HIV. His music and his openness about his sexuality and his HIV status is why he is also my LGBT Black History Month Hero. HIS MUSIC LIVES ON!
The following is taken from The AIDS Memorial. https://instagram.com/p/CEzFvJaDpnN/
Sylvester James, Jr. (September 6, 1947 – December 16, 1988) was a singer-songwriter who died of AIDS in San Francisco. He was 41 years old.
In 1985, Sylvester’s boyfriend, Rick Cranmer, discovered that he was HIV positive. When he died in September 1987, Sylvester lived in denial about his own health and decided not to get to tested even when he developed a persistent cough, often a sign of late-stage HIV infection.
Despite this, he 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.
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. 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, he attended the 1988 San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Parade (in front of the People With AIDS (PWA) banner) in a wheelchair being pushed along the entire route by his manager Tim Mckenna, who also had AIDS. McKenna died on January 3, 1990.
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. Two weeks before he died in his bed at home, having developed neuropathy and now reliant on morphine, he told his minister that he was “ready.” 📸 © @stevenarnoldarchive #whatisrememberedlives
If you would like to nominate your hero or find out more about our BAME LGBT+ Forum, please email Norwich Pride historian Stevie at history@norwichpride.org.uk
You can check out all our Black History Month LGBT+ heroes on our website www.norwichpride.org.uk/news/
To download a copy of the Norfolk Black History Month 2020 brochure go to: www.norfolkblackhistorymonth.org/events