BlackFacts Details

James, Sylvester (1947-1988)

Sylvester James, American singer and songwriter, was born in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California to Sylvester James and Letha Weaver on September 6, 1947.  He grew up with his mother and stepfather Robert Hurd, as well as five siblings: John James, Larry James, Bernadette Jackson, Bernadine Stevens, and Alonzo Hurd.  Raised attending the Palm Lane Church of God and Christ in Los Angeles, James became a young gospel star performing at churches and conventions across California.

James graduated from Jordan High School in Los Angeles in 1969.  He studied interior design for two years at Leimert Beauty College, Los Angeles and also studied archeology, working at the Museum of Ancient History at the La Brea Tar Pits.  During this time, he co-founded the recording group, the Disquotays.

After moving to San Francisco in 1967, he joined the Cockettes, a theater troupe, singing jazz and blues standards of the 1920s and 1930s; in November 1971, the Cockettes performed at the Anderson Theater in New York City’s East Village.  Sylvester made his debut album on the Blue Thumb label with Lights Out (1971), followed in 1973 by Sylvester and Bazaar.  In 1976, Sylvester hired the singers Martha Wash and Izora Armstead-Rhodes. Record producer Harvey Fuqua discovered the group and signed them with Fantasy Records which produced the album Sylvester in 1977.  

James performed at the Rock Show at Winterland in San Francisco, opened for Chaka Khan, appeared at the Castro Street Fair with Harvey Milk, and was profiled in GQ magazine.  In 1978, James performed on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and on The Merv Griffin Show.  On March 11, 1979, Sylvester performed at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House and was awarded the Key to the City by Mayor Diane Feinstein.  The concert was released as the album Living Proof.  Also in 1979, Disco International Magazine deemed him Best Male Disco Act.

Over the course of his career, James sang a variety of genres, including ballads, jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, rock, torch songs, soul,

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