Sylvester James Jr. was born in Watts, Los Angeles, and grew up singing in the gospel choir in a local Pentecostal church. He faced hostility from church members because of his homosexuality and moved to San Francisco in 1970. He became the frontman for the rock act Sylvester and his Hot Band. They released two albums, and a few singles, none of which charted.
After a few false starts with other groups, Sylvester recruited Martha Wash and her friend Izora Rhodes as backup singers. The pair had been performing as the Two Tons O’Fun, and after Sylvester recruited additional musicians they began performing primarily at gay clubs in 1976.
Fantasy Records signed Sylvester to a recording contract in 1977. He recorded his first solo album that year and finally reached the US Dance Chart with his singles.
His biggest success came from the release of his second solo album in 1978. The single Dance (Disco Heat) reached #19 on the Hot 100. Sylvester and the Two-Tons O’Fun even performed the song on American Bandstand and got interviewed by Dick Clark.
The B-side of the single was You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real). That side got enough airplay to reach #40 on the Hot 100.
His record company issued a 12-inch vinyl record in 1978 that had the extended dance version of Dance (Disco Heat) on the A-side and a remix of You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) on the B-side. The two songs sat at number one and number two on the US Dance chart for most of August and September.
He continued charting new songs on the R&B chart through 1987 when his boyfriend died from complications of AIDS. Sylvester died the next year after battling the disease himself and left all future royalties from his work to San Francisco-based HIV/AIDS charities.
The Tow-Tons O’Fun changed their name to the Weather Girls and began recording their own albums in 1980 and immediately had two singles reach #2 on the US Dance Chart. In 1982 they released the single It’s Raining Men, which topped the US Dance Chart and reached #34 on the R&B chart and #46 on the Hot 100.
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