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The Fabulous Sylvester

By Joshua Gamson

Forever enshrined in music legend for his euphoric dancefloor hits and his mighty falsetto, Sylvester was the black American singer who, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in America, openly flouted gender norms with his penchant for appearing on stage draped in thrift store chic, feathers and sequins, his mouth painted red, his eyes ringed with mascara.

Joshua Gamson’s moving and beautifully written tribute has become a classic of music biography. From his boyhood and teenage years in Los Angeles, where he became part of a cross dressing party troop known as the Disquotays, to his move to San Francisco where he joined The Cockettes – a loose group of hippie anarchist, sexually wild, drag and glitter wearing troubadours – to his eventual success as a disco diva and then to his tragic death from Aids aged just 41, this is an entrancing portrait both of the man and of the times he lived in. Sylvester’s career captures the spirit of San Francisco in the seventies and the emergence of the Pride movement, which he was so much a part of. He faced his final months, in his beloved city, with the humour and spirit with which he lived his short life.

Gamson has interviewed numerous friends, family and colleagues and he weaves their accounts through the narrative, his ear picking up their idiom and threading it into the story which is, as it’s subject, truly fabulous.

Joshua Gamson served on the faculty of Yale University before becoming a Professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco. His work has appeared in The Nation, The American Prospect, Newsday, Gender & Society, the Journal of the History of Sexuality, and Sociological Inquiry. He received the 2006 Stonewall Book Award for nonfiction for The Fabulous Sylvester, which was also shortlisted for the 2005 Lambda Literary Awards and was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow. He is the author of Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity and Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America. He lives in Oakland, California.

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