In Drosophila melanogaster, X chromosome dosage compensation is achieved by doubling the transcription of most X-linked genes. The male-specific lethal (MSL) complex is required for this process and binds to hundreds of sites on the male X chromosome. The MSL1 protein is essential for X chromosome binding and serves as a central scaffold for MSL complex assembly. We find that the amino-terminal region of MSL1 binds to hundreds of sites on the X chromosome in normal males but only to approximately 30 high-affinity sites in the absence of endogenous MSL1. Binding to the high-affinity sites requires a basic motif at the amino terminus that is conserved among Drosophila species. X chromosome binding also requires a conserved leucine zipper-like motif that binds to MSL2. A glycine-rich motif between the basic and leucine-zipper-like motifs mediates MSL1 self-association in vitro and binding of the amino-terminal region of MSL1 to the MSL complex assembled on the male X chromosome. We propose that the basic region may mediate DNA binding and that the glycine-rich region may promote the association of MSL complexes to closely adjacent sites on the X chromosome.