Mighty Real

Creators Kendrell Bowman and Anthony Wayne teamed with Broadway star Sheryl Lee Ralph to make the production of ‘Sylvester’ become a reality. — Paintedbride

If you ever twirled on the floor at Studio 54 -or a similar discothèque- in the late 70’s you most certainly heard soul singer, Sylvester.

Known for his flamboyant and androgynous appearance, Sylvester was a singer-songwriter heralded as the “Queen of Disco.”

Born Sylvester James, Jr. (Sept. 6, 1947 – Dec. 16, 1988), in Watts, Los Angeles, Sylvester developed a love of singing through the gospel choirs of his Pentecostal church, which he left after being persecuted for his homosexuality. His career started as an early founder of a group of Black cross-dressers and trans women known as The Disquotays.

After that group disbanded, he moved to San Francisco and embraced the counterculture, joining a drag troupe, The Cockettes, and he eventually produced solo shows heavily influenced by female blues and jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker.

Sylvester left the Cockettes to focus on his solo career, and by 1978, his acclaimed album “Step II” spawned the disco classics, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” He released 12 albums in his career, and had several more hits, including “Do Ya Wanna Funk,” and “Can’t Stop Dancing.”

An activist who campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS, Sylvester died from complications arising from the virus in 1988. In 2004, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame, and one year later in 2005, Sylvester himself was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievement as an artist.

In 2011, the TV documentary series Unsung aired an episode on Sylvester that caught the attention of costume designer Kendrell Bowman and Broadway Star Anthony Wayne. Both have successfully carved out a career in theater, yet had never heard of the disco dynamo.

The duo commenced to researching the larger-than-life dance persona, and in August 2014, an off-Broadway musical titled “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical,” debuted in New York City.

A passionate health advocate and honored AIDS activist, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph is producing the acclaimed musical hit that celebrates the life of the original 1970’s Disco Queen.

“It is a musical, theatrical concert experience,” explained Ralph during a brief break from the hit TV series, “Instant Mom.”

“It is so many things wrapped up into one, with inspiration on top of it. What I really love is that they did not shy away from any part of Sylvester’s life to make it okay, palatable or [politically correct] for anybody – they just told his story, his life story, the way it should be told – including the fact that this was a young man who came out of church singing gospel who ultimately died and was one of the earliest cases of AIDS.”

“Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical,” the celebration of the life and music of the original 1970s “Queen of Disco,” Sylvester, comes to Philadelphia for one weekend only, performing at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., for five shows: Friday, April 3 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 4 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 5, at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.FabulousSylvester.com.

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