Four on Four: Kevin Aviance on Sylvester
By Out.com Editors
We asked four of this year's 2006 Out 100 honorees to tell us which late, great member of the LGBT community influenced their lives the most.
Sylvester, a true international superstar, represented the black and gay cultural origins of disco to mainstream America, and made it possible for artists like me to achieve success in the music industry today. From the day he made his debut with the experimental theater troupe the Cockettes on January 1, 1970, Sylvester captivated the attention of the gay community with his flamboyant attitude and outrageous fashions. To the scores of well-known drag queens and performing artists around the world who came to perform in clubs and bars because of his chart-topping records, he became an iconic figure'a symbol of an era when gays still pressed on even though homosexuality was illegal and being different was even less accepted by society.
His greatest achievement was the LP Step 2. As the LP was being recorded, Sylvester let Patrick Cowley, then an up-and-coming remixer, hear an early version of 'You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.' Cowley's musical overlays transformed the former ballad into a disco tour de force. The driving beat and keyboard flourishes reflected the intensity of gay disco at its best, while Sylvester's impassioned vocals communicated the anticipation of sex. Arriving at the height of disco-mania, the combination proved irresistible, and much to the horror of disco haters and homophobes, he was launched into the mainstream, which is what most gay artists still aspire to do today. And despite the fact that the accompanying music video made an attempt at toning down his flamboyancy, he still continued to stroll around the clubs in full drag. He also was the first gay man to appear on national television in full drag. He was very proud and took his drag everywhere with him. All that mattered to him was that he was a child of God.
A supernova rock star, songwriter, and an extraordinary stage performer, he will always be remembered for pushing the envelope'thinking outside of the box, which is what moves me every single day of my life. If you know me, you know that I always steer away from what I call the norm, dressing like other people, having the same makeup night after night, and thinking small. Sylvester's story has taught me to own everything that I do and to hold my head up. He was and still is my gay pride.
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