TransVocalizers: Sylvester — and Liberace?

| Jul 15, 2013

CD Review:

51Cv2Utp4eLMighty Real Greatest Dance Hits by Sylvester

Before going into the review of the newly released Sylvester tribute CD entitled Mighty Real Greatest Dance Hits, a bit of background information on the singer known to many simply as Sylvester is more than appropriate.

Born Sylvester James, September 6th, 1947 in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Sylvester began his love of singing through the gospel choir at the Pentecostal Church his family attended. Recognizing he was gay at an early age, this eventually caused him to leave the church.

After making that decision, he was also kicked out of his family’s house by his mother who regarded being gay as a sin. Sylvester ended up moving from place to place, and eventually helped to found a group known as The Disquotays, a loosely organized band of African-American transwomen and crossdressers. They were known for throwing wild parties and have been regarded by some as forerunners of the Stonewall and gay liberation civil rights movement of the late 1960s.

When The Disquotays disbanded in 1970, Sylvester moved to San Francisco and joined the well known drag troupe The Cockettes.

In 1973, Sylvester went solo, forming the band Sylvester and The Hot Band. They released two albums, Sylvester And The Hot Band and Bazaar that year, but both were commercially unsuccessful.

sylvester02After these albums, Sylvester started working with new backup singers Two Tons O’ Fun and Jeanie Tracy. He released his first solo album in 1977, simply entitled Sylvester. This was followed by highly acclaimed disco album, Step II in 1978. This particular release produced two hits, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Dance (Disco Heat).

Subsequent releases are Stars (1979); Sell My Soul (1980); Too Hot To Sleep (1981); All I Need (1982-later re-released as Do Ya Wanna Funk); Call Me (1983); M-1015 (1985-later re-released as Rock The Box); and Mutual Attraction in 1986. There was also a live album released in 1979 entitled Living Proof.

Sylvester died from complications resulting from AIDS on December 16, 1988. On September 20, 2004, Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame. A year later, Sylvester himself was inducted as an artist.

The new tribute CD, Sylvester Mighty Real Dance Hits contains all the best known hits by Sylvester, with the compilation itself produced by Tom Cartwright and Chris Clough. For anyone born after the disco era, this album could serve as a miniature text-book education on the genre. What’s also interesting is hearing the foundational basis for all of the current dance music that now filling the clubs. It’s a fitting tribute to an artist who was flamboyant and not afraid to take it to the next level, years before Prince, RuPaul and Michael Jackson ever crossed a stage.

Sylvester Mighty Real Dance Hits The CD opens with a dub mix version of You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and closes with the original version of the song. The only difference is that the mix version contains a bit more contemporary instrumentation and is of course longer.

SylvesterThe best examples of what was happening in the work of disco music can be heard on Dance (Disco Heat), which was one of Sylvester’s biggest hits and a perfect example of the genre’; Over And Over, which contains an excellent guitar lick, with great strings, horns and background vocals, and a very good example of the occasional “over produced” disco sound of the era; and Can’t Stop Dancing, which actually is almost a hybrid of disco and techno, but still heavily orchestrated.

sylvester03Sylvester’s ability to touch on other influences can be found in Changes, which has a more gospel/R&B, funk feel than disco (and is one of the better production moments on the entire compilation); Sell My Soul, funk with a rock feel, and another excellent production; Stars, which is quite heavy considering the other tunes on this project-it starts out as rock but quickly hits the 4/4 beat, but stays somewhat dark in overall feel; I Need You which definitely shows Sylvester’s church background, and I Need Somebody To Love Tonight, which is definitely a precursor to the contemporary techno sound of dance music.

Almost all the tracks have a background chorus that sounds more black gospel influenced than anything else, and practically all of the tunes are sung in falsetto by Sylvester, which was more or less a trademark sound for him.

It would be a mistake to think that a tribute project to Sylvester would only contain disco music. But of course, given the era in question, that would be an easy assertion to make. Sylvester Mighty Real Dance Hits fits into categories such as soul, funk, Hi-NRG, R&B, gospel, even some rock, as well as disco. Sylvester as a musician wrote many of his own tunes, as well as playing keyboards, piano, and being his own producer. He was definitely one of the originators of what we regard as dance music, and he was also definitely not afraid to put his trans status and sexuality out there for all to see.

For more information about Sylvester check out the Sylvester website.

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Behind The Candelabra — Music From The HBO Original Film

cd_coverThe album for Behind The Candelabra is the sound track for the HBO film about Liberace which debuted on Sunday, May 26, and the music itself has been released to all digital music outlets as of May 21st. The film stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson, Liberace’s long time confidant and rumored lover. The film is based on Thorson’s 1988 autobiography, Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace.

Born Wladziu Valentio Liberace on May 6, 1919, in West Allis, Wisconsin, he began playing piano at age 4. By age 7, he was memorizing complicated piece . As a teenager, Liberace played in bands, on radio, as well as in theaters and strip clubs. By the age of 20, in 1940, we was asked to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The flamboyant clothing and stage persona had started developing during these early years. While part of his “act.”  It also lead to rumors of homosexuality. Since this was during an era when being “out” was not accepted, Liberace always vehemently denied being gay and was in fact involved in several lawsuits throughout the years against individuals and publications who had made that claim.

Throughout his career, Liberace released over 70 albums, made dozens of television appearances, and was in several movies. Lilberace also wrote 3 autobiographies, and there are several biographies in print as well. Other works also include cookbooks, poetry, music books, and compilations either by or about Liberace that are still in print.

Liberace died of complications due to AIDS on February 4, 1987. While his flamboyance could be considered somewhat feminine at times, he was most definitely a gay male and not transgendered. Nonetheless, he has remained an icon for the entire LGBT community.

Behind The Candelabra Music From The HBO Original Film

Liberace

Liberace

The CD opens with the orchestra assembled for this project, known as the BTC Orchestra, playing the Librace Fanfare, and gives the listener a taste of the overall feel of the project. The orchestra and soundtrack are produced by Evyen Kean and Kevin Weaver.

Musically, much of the orchestral work is new, being recorded specifically for the film. However, some of Liberace’s own recordings have been used. Some of the highlights of the soundtrack are three recitations by Michael Douglas, (The Liberace Boogie, Why Do I Love You, and The Impossible Dream) and performances from pianists Randy Kerber (Nocturne In E Flat Major, Op. 9 No.2), and Idil Biret (Prelude In E Minor, Op. 28 No. 4).

Standards from the era in which Liberace had his most successful years include Tico Tico (very uptempo Latin feel, and very recognizable); Nola (the BTC Orchestra doing this standard); and Begin The Beguine, once again with the orchestra.

Douglas as Liberace

Douglas as Liberace

Two very interesting, and almost unexpected pieces, are Liberace’s version of Love Is Blue and female vocalist Peggy King singing an almost vaudeville tune entitled When Liberace Winks At Me.

All in all, this is very well presented music from an era that most modern listeners probably won’t be familiar with. Liberace had some of his most successful years during a time when boogie style piano playing was popular and it’s evident in his own recordings used for the soundtrack. No matter what the style, though, there is no denying that Liberace was a masterful virtuoso on the piano, and a one-of-a-kind showman.

The project was produced by Emmy award winner Jerry Weintraub and directed by Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergy, with a script by Richard LaGravenese. The film was produced by Gregory Jacobs, Susan Ekins, and Michael Polaire. Executive soundtrack producers are Marvin Hamilisch, Steven Soderbergh, and Jerry Weintraub. For more information, check out HBO. Music also available at the HBO Shop, iTunes and certain clips can be viewed on YouTube.)

ALSO THIS MONTH

Cornelius “Popcorn” Robertson?Cornelius “Popcorn” Robertson is asking for volunteers to help with his next MusicFest in Nashville, Tn. Anyone interested in volunteering, mentoring, or trading services should contact “Popcorn” at 615-424-1491, or go to www.IndependentMusicFest.org.

Our Lady J

Our Lady J

Our Lady J

Our Lady J has announced that she has recorded a new album after two intense years of work. She is seeking funding to help with distribution through indigogo.com. She can also be contacted through her website. Also on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Beth Isbell?

Yet another artist with an upcoming new project, Beth Isbell, has announced that she will be releasing a new album on September 1st. Entitled We Are The Gods, the project “…will feature 12-14 new original psychedelic grunge punk songs.” $10 pre-orders are available through her website, as well as bandcamp. (Also, follow Beth on Facebook, Twitter, and Reverbnation). Hopefully, we’ll be posting a new interview with Beth in the next month or so.

Calpernia Addams

Calpernia never seems to run out of stuff to post. She has a new YouTube video just out, called Goddess: Live.

Rev. Yolanda

Rev. Yolanda

Rev. Yolanda

Rev. Yolanda has checked in this month with news of an interesting gig/adventure she recently had, plus a couple of new upcoming events. First, let’s let the good Reverend tell the story of her adventure:

Well about a week ago, Rev. Yolanda was invited to the AOL LIVE ANCHOR auditions… it was hilarious!!! My call time was 7am-in FULL DRAG! It truly was a miraculous event to see ME get up at 4am in our Bay Ridge Brooklyn apartment and put on my full Rev. Yolanda drag, get on the subway, and easily and effortlessly make it right on time to the AOL studios without a bead of sweat (it was FREEZING on the R train). I was escorted immediately to the studio, miked up, and pushed into the light. “You’re ON” they yelled ..and I said “Hi Ya’ll Rev Yolanda here.. now its time for a song — I’LL FLY AWAY OL GLORY”… the studio cracked up and so did I! Here’s the link to the video of the best moments from the audition. I come in at about 1minute.

I was trending all day on the AOL Home page. You can still Tweet to AOL LIVE if you like… they dig it. Tweet “I WANT REV YOLANDA” to #AOLLIVE

Rev. Yolanda’s aforementioned upcoming gigs are:?August 4th, Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour Birthday Party, with special guest Candy Samples, at NYC’s The Duplex. (www.theduplex.com for ticket info)

August 10th, Out In The Woods Music Festival at Easton Mountain, featuring a veritable “who’s who” of LGBT musicians and singers. (For more information, check out the festival website. Plus, you can always check out Yolanda’s main website.

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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About Pam Degroff: Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

Comments (1)

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  1. rogermapes says:

    Thank you for including me Pamela! I appreciate you! This is a terrific article and I loved your interview with Namoli.
    xoxoxo all the best to you,
    Rev. Yolanda
    http://www.yolanda.net