Song of the Day: Sylvester “I Who Have Nothing”
Disco icon, Sylvester‘s thumping, pumping, extended anthem, “I Who Have Nothing” is a perfect disco song. It combines innate dance-ability, just the right amount of weirdness, soaring vocals, some extended drum breakdowns and soaring strings that sit right on the razor’s edge between cheese and the sublime. Appearing on Sylvester‘s 1979 album, Stars, the record appeared just at the beginning of the first wave of disco’s peak. The record is a personal favorite and is the last of its type that Sylvester would record before subsequently pivoting into more of an electro pop direction (which we have previously covered on the site). The song’s high number of BPMs and more than 10 minute run-time provides for an unrelenting, sweaty and mind-blowing dance experience. The song isn’t as well known as it deserves to be, which is a shame as it is really something special.
Sylvester was born Sylvester James Jr. in 1947 in Los Angeles, CA. He grew up in a middle class African American family and first learned to sing as part of a Pentecostal Church choir. After the Church expressed disapproval of his homosexuality, Sylvester, who came out very early and was an early pride advocate, left the Church and found a new support network among a black cross-dressing and transgender community in Los Angeles that called themselves The Disquotays. Sylvester eventually moved to San Francisco and did a stint as the singer in a little known band called the The Cocketts. When the group failed to break through commercially, Sylvester went solo. He proved to be an enormous success as a solo disco artist, turning in a strong of hits, including “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”, “Rock The Box” and “Do You Want To Funk”. Sylvester sadly died of AIDS in 1988. His final years were spent as an activist, campaigning against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Sylvester’s importance to disco music, around gay and transgender rights, and in combating the spread of HIV cannot be overstated.