One of the dozens of undervalued R&B and jazz vocalists active during the '70s and '80s, Sylvia St. James developed a love for music and performance through her mother and grandparents. St. James began in the church and developed an appreciation for classical and jazz; she was offered a scholarship to attend the Chicago Conservatory and study opera, but a family move prevented her from following through. Instead, she performed in bands and an orchestra in the Midwest. A move to California led her to the Shiva Orchestra, as well as recording sessions for George Duke's The Aura Will Prevail, Wayne Henderson's Big Daddy's Place, and Gabor Szabo's Faces.
Also during the late '70s, St. James joined Side Effect and, as a lead vocalist and songwriter, was a major factor on two of the band's Henderson-produced releases for Fantasy: Goin' Bananas (1977) and Rainbow Visions (1978). As a solo artist, she signed to Elektra and was part of the label's deep roster of R&B and crossover jazz artists, which included the likes of Patrice Rushen, Leon Ware, Lenny White's Twennynine, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and, coincidentally, Side Effect. Neither one of her two albums, Magic (1980) and Echoes & Images (1981), made much commercial impact, but they were fine syntheses of jazz and sophisticated post-disco R&B, with assistance from Lenny White, Larry Dunn (Earth, Wind & Fire), Don Blackman, Richard Evans, and André Fischer, among many others.
St. James didn't release another solo album, but she continued to perform and record with Phil Upchurch, Jeff Lorber, the Clarke/Duke Project, Bernie Taupin, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Harry Connick, Jr., and Michael Bublé. She led the House of Blues Gospel Sunday Brunch and taught at Hollywood's Musicians Institute. In the 2010s, her Elektra albums were digitized for downloads and were made available through some streaming services. Additionally, the Expansion label combined them on one release for compact disc in 2014. ~ Andy Kellman