R.I.P. Henri Belolo, co-founder and producer of Village People, dead at 82

The French producer and fierce gay ally was behind one of disco's most iconic groups

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Henri Belolo and The Village People

Henri Belolo, the French producer who co-founded the Village People, has died at the age of 82. According to New York Daily News, Belolo passed away on Saturday, August 3rd.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Belolo spent his 20s in Paris, France as a DJ and music producer. He relocated to New York City in 1973 and met another Moroccan ex-pat, Jacques Morali. Inspired by the gay club scene and appalled by American bigotry, the pair determined to form a disco group that would embrace all aspects of diversity and the homoerotic male fantasy: The Village People.

“We were keen of doing something for [gay liberation and the political side of it], because Jacques was gay, and I was feeling that an injustice was done to the gay community, Belolo said in a 2004 interview with Red Bull Music Academy. “And I did not like that American mentality of bigotry and hypocrisy. And I didn’t see why these people would be treated like this. Like black people, as well – I did not like the way they were treated… I really did it as a provocative, subversive way of telling you, ‘This is the way it is.’”

The six-piece group — made up of singers and dancers in costume as a policeman, cowboy, Indian, construction worker, soldier, and leather biker — quickly became pioneers of disco music. Hits like “YMCA”, “Macho Man”, “In the Navy”, and “Go West” are indelible to this day. After a 33-year hiatus from recording, the group released A Village People Christmas last year.

Originally, Belolo was given a co-writing credit on a number of Village People’s biggest songs. However, in 2015, original frontman/cop Victor Willis won a copyright case that removed Belolo’s writing credits.

Still, Willis remained appreciative and fond of Belolo. In a statement to Rolling Stone, he said of his late collaborator’s passing,

“I am devastated by the untimely death of Henri Belolo, who was my former producer, mentor and co-creator of Village People. Henri leaves an impressive body of work that helped shape the disco genre, and as a record executive, he was par excellence. A private funeral was held already [in] Paris, but we are working on a public memorial service which is expected to be announced soon.”

Village People are scheduled to perform at this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that set turned into something of a tribute to Belolo.