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U.S. News

Sylvester Songs Profit Local AIDS Agencies

April 23, 2010

Two local AIDS agencies recently split a check for nearly $140,000, after they became beneficiaries of the estate of Sylvester James. Better known as "Sylvester," the legendary gay disco and soul singer from San Francisco died 21 years ago from AIDS-related complications.

Before his death, Sylvester bequeathed the royalties from his music, including hits such as "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Dance (Disco Heat)," to the AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) and Rita Rockett's food program at San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86 for AIDS patients. But Sylvester had taken advances against the royalties, and by the late 80s and 90s, disco music received little airplay.

"In communicating with record industry people in Los Angeles, the feeling was that Sylvester's time had passed and it was very, very unlikely that in the future there would be any royalties to pay off the advances and to fund these requests," said Roger Gross, an attorney who helped Sylvester create his will.

However, the use of Sylvester's songs in radio, movies, and television by the late 90s had begun delivering a consistent revenue stream at Concord Music Group. CMG just had no idea where to send the money. Beginning in 2005, the executors of Sylvester's will successfully petitioned the probate court to designate Project Open Hand in place of the Ward 86 food program, which had ended.

"The royalties continued to accrue," said Gross. In fact, iTunes gave a new generation access to Sylvester's music. Movie makers continued to option his songs, including for a scene in the Oscar-winning "Milk."

Under the estate's provisions, 75 percent of royalties will go to AEF and 25 will go to Project Open Hand. The $34,000 that the project received earlier this month will pay for 13,000 meals provided solely for clients with HIV, said Bob Brenneman, POH's development director.

Back to other news for April 2010

Adapted from:
Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco)
04.15.2010; Matthew S. Bajko

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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