Sylvester James. 1948-1988. A voice that was raised in the Baptist church and on Aretha Franklin records; he developed a falsetto that put him on the Mount Rushmore of rock falsetti (see: Curtis Mayfield). Sylvester & the Hot Band was rock and roll, a San Francisco band that was a little too late for the 60s gold rush; they recorded two early-70s LPs. David Bowie beat him to the punch, by a year or so, in dressing in drag on an album cover, but Sylvester was the first American to do so, perhaps. Sylvester's first solo album came in 1977, after having been discovered by Harvey Fuqua, Marvin Gaye's former producer, who had actually been in the audience with the intention of hearing Martha Wash, one of the backup singers.

The album wasn't disco, but a continuation of the soul/rock thread of earlier years. The second album (Step II, 1979) wasn't meant to be disco either. But budding synthesist Patrick Cowley, in a move similar to Tom Wilson's adding a rock rhythm section to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence", added an "I Feel Love"-inspired electro-disco beat to a Fuqua-produced Sylvester ballad called "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real". It worked; San Francisco now had its own home-grown Giorgio Moroder, and the Sylvester/Cowley melding of synthesizers and gospelly vocals formed a blueprint for house music and Hi-NRG productions in the subsequent decades. "Dance (Disco Heat)" repeated the success of "Mighty Real", and Sylvester henceforth was identified with disco. Aside from That Voice, Sylvester's Hot Band past and irrepressible personality made him a lot more interesting onstage than the average disco performer.

Cowley became persona non grata with the record label (Fantasy) when "disco" became a four-letter word. Sylvester jumped ship (after singing "as a man" on Too Hot to Sleep, a forced attempt at an non-disco LP, in which Cowley and the backup singers, Two Tons of Fun, including Wash, had been ousted), signing with Cowley's own Megatone Records. But Cowley died in 1982, an early victim of AIDS; their last big collaboration was "Do You Wanna Funk?", another classic. Sylvester himself became HIV-positive, becoming physically unable to sing after the mid-80s, dying in 1988. But he became the Aretha of disco, perhaps, during his few years of international prominence.