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Chrissy Shively

Chrissy Shively is an internationally touring DJ/producer with an eye toward dance music history: his previous projects “My Year of Mixtapes” and “My Year of Edits” focused on the history of house, disco, and other electronic dance genres. He currently runs two house music record labels, The Nite Owl Diner and Cool Ranch, and recently relocated from Chicago to San Francisco.

"Under the Covers: Gender and Sexuality in Sylvester's Cover Songs"
Sylvester, a pioneering San Francisco-based disco performer and gay icon referred to as “The Queen of Disco” and “The First Lady of the Castro”, gained notoriety for his powerful falsetto, gender-nonconforming appearance, and string of genre-defining disco and Hi-NRG singles. Having cut his teeth first as a church singer, and then as a member of the legendary San Francisco avant-garde drag troupe the Cockettes, Sylvester was no stranger to performing other people's songs. In his ten years as a solo recording artist, he recorded more than twenty covers, often subtly reinterpreting the source material to reflect his own personality, sexuality, and gender identity.

By changing gender pronouns and little else, his cover of Ben E. King's “I (Who Have Nothing)”—a fairly standard song about a poor man in love with a more well-off woman who fails to register his existence—instead becomes about a gay man's unrequited love for a straight man, and the alienation and isolation often experienced by members of the LGBT community. Conversely, his cover of Freda Payne's “Band of Gold”—thought by many to allude to a heartbroken young bride's marriage to a closeted gay man—instead becomes a more standard breakup song with a knowing wink to the fight for marriage equality.

This presentation will examine these songs and others, drawing parallels between Sylvester's personal life, contemporary events in the LGBT community, and the creative choices Sylvester made when reimagining and recontextualizing his cover versions.