The legacy of a musician who set new precedent for genderqueer, gay and black entertainers has been revisited in a new mini-documentary. Love Me Like You Should: The Brave and Bold Sylvester has been uploaded to YouTube by Amazon Music in celebration of Pride Month.
The short film details the life and times of Sylvester James Jr., known mononymously as Sylvester. Starting with his birth in South Central Los Angeles, it charts the course of his move to San Fransisco’s Castro District and later breakthrough as a singer/songwriter. At the pinnacle of James’ rise were the singles “Dance Disco Heat” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” the latter of which he performed at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House in 1979. Among those interviewed were his sister, Bernadette Baldwin, as well as collaborators like James Wirrick and Martha Wash.
Sylvester the Pioneer
While the significant influence of black culture on mainstream music extends back at least a century, James was among the first non-binary artists to achieve superstardom. As pointed out in the documentary, he championed gender fluidity years before it would be called that through his unapologetic style and demeanor.
James died following a long battle with AIDS on December 16th, 1988. He had attended a Pride parade in a wheelchair shortly before passing on to show solidarity even in his final years.
Amazon has also curated a playlist called Pride History on which “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” is an entry.