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Sylvester's 'Step II' rereleased, short documentary airs

by Jim Provenzano

Sylvester and his album Step II
Sylvester and his album Step II  

Disco icon Sylvester's 'Step II' album has been reissued, and a short online documentary tells the story of his fabulous yet too-brief career and life.

The second album from one of dance music's most influential and trailblazing artists is now available for the first time in hi-resolution audio. Step II includes the timeless dance floor anthems "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and his hit single "Dance (Disco Heat)."

Craft Recordings has reissued Sylvester's iconic 1978 album, with newly remastered audio, available across all digital and streaming platforms.

In the late 1970s, Sylvester (born Sylvester James Jr. in 1947) had been performing in San Francisco for nearly a decade, as a part of the avant-garde drag troupe, The Cockettes, and as the frontman for a rock group, Sylvester and his Hot Band. He then set his sights on a solo career and signed a deal with the Berkeley-based Fantasy Records.

Martha Wash and Izora Rhodes (better known as "Two Tons O'Fun," and who later became The Weather Girls, joined Sylvester in recording his self-titled disco debut in 1977. While Sylvester fared better across the Atlantic, it was clear that the artist had found his groove in the disco scene.

When he went into the studio to write his next record, the 30-year-old Sylvester was determined to score a hit song. His guitarist, James Wirrick, had been working on a melody for an R&B ballad. Sylvester enlisted producer and electronic music pioneer Patrick Cowley to work his magic on the track (see the review of Cowley's posthumously-published diaries and reissued music HERE.)

The result was "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)", a pulsating, effects-heavy tune with an irresistible hook. The song would not only become a disco classic, and an anthem within the gay community, but it is also considered to be a touchstone in the hi-NRG genre.

With the release of Step II in 1978 Sylvester's dreams of stardom came true—and then some. Praised by Rolling Stone for being, "as good as disco gets," Step II was certified Gold by the RIAA, broke the Billboard R&B Top 10, and peaked at No.28 on the Billboard 200. The album's first single "Dance (Disco Heat)" marked Sylvester's first Top 40 hit, peaking at No.19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.29 on the UK Pop chart. "Dance (Disco Heat)" and "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" also both hit No.1 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart, while the latter song would break the Top 40 in the US, and become Sylvester's first Top 10 hit in the UK.

"You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," however, would be Sylvester's most enduring single. Initially, the song's popularity led to sold-out shows, TV appearances, international tours, and opening spots for artists like Chaka Khan and The Commodores. In 1979, San Francisco even bestowed its "Queen of Disco" with the key to the city.

In the 80s, Sylvester also became a tireless activist for those living with HIV and AIDS. Sadly, the artist lost his own battle to complications from the virus in 1988, at the age of 41. Before he died, Sylvester ensured that royalties from the sales of his music would benefit two local organizations: the AIDS Emergency Fund (later renamed Emergency Financial Assistance), which offers immediate financial assistance to those disabled by HIV and AIDS, and Project Open Hand, which provides meals and groceries to the elderly and those battling critical illnesses in the Bay Area.

The short documentary (see below) includes interviews with Martha Wash, Sylvester's sister and others, as well as providing a brief look at the fabulous too-brief career of a music icon.


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