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Let’s face it: “Disco Sucks” sucks. The late 1970s backlash against the popularity of disco music and movies like Saturday night fever, which crescendoed with the infamous Disco Demolition Night on a Chicago baseball field in 1979, is now widely understood to be misguided, even fanatic.
Because the nightclub wasn’t just a hedonistic phenomenon: it was often the last place marginalized people, like Black, gay singer / songwriter Sylvester, could be themselves.
“You came out of the closet. It was tough,” Sylvester biographer Rick Karr told NPR in 2018. “A lot of people [at the time] left their original home, their original family, with great pain, and moved to a more liberated place, like San Francisco. And then… that person comes out into public life that is like how you felt when you broke free. “
True, in 1979 Sylvester had already been around for six years and had released five albums. But it was his 1978 album, Stage II, who truly delivered his message of liberation to the world. Stage II, which included his flagship song “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”, hit the Billboard hard drives and received gold certification by the RIAA in the late 1970s.
The album and song left a deep mark on disco and are today considered genre touchstones and bugle calls for LGBTQ + culture. Hailed as one of the definitive LGBTQ + pride anthems of all time, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2019.
The world lost Sylvester too soon; he died in 1988, at age 41, of AIDS. But when we consider the progress the LGBTQ + community has made in music, art, and all other media, we can partly thank this fearless and proud musical dynamo.
In the latest episode of For The Record, GRAMMY.com takes you into the colorful and inclusive world of Stage II, the classic album by maverick Sylvester disco that still sounds like it could’ve been recorded this morning.
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