Henri Belolo, producer and co-creator of disco sensations The Village People, has died at the age of 82. The New York Daily News reported that Belolo passed away on Saturday, 3 August. At the time of writing, no official cause of death has been released.
In a statement issued to Rolling Stone, Village People singer Victor Willis said: “I am devastated by the untimely death of Henri Belolo who was my former producer, mentor and co-creator of Village People.
“Henri, who actually died on 3 August 2019, leaves an impressive body of work that helped shape the disco genre, and as a record executive, he was par excellence.”
The singer went on to confirm that a private funeral has already been held in Paris, although a public memorial service is being planned and will be announced soon.
French record label Scorpio Music, which was founded by Belolo back in 1976, also took to Twitter to post their condolences. “In loving memory of Henri Belolo, founder of Scorpio Music and pioneer of dance music,” they wrote.
Belolo was born in 1936 in Casablanca, Morocco. Having begun his music career as a DJ, he relocated to Paris to work in production before moving to the US in 1973. Belolo then met fellow producer Jacques Morali. In 1975, the pair produced the Ritchie Family’s ‘Brazil,’ which grew into a hit on the club circuit and eventually became popular worldwide. Belolo and Morali’s partnership proved fruitful and continued into the next decade.
Morali and Belolo would frequent the club scene and together they helped pioneer the disco movement. In 1978 they assembled the six-member band, Village People. The group embodied the free-wheeling, party spirit of the era, embracing and celebrating gay culture with costumes that fulfilled fantasy characters — a construction worker, police officer, biker, cowboy, soldier and Indian. The group spawned a number of indelible hits that remain staples in pop culture today, including ‘Y.M.C.A.’ ‘Macho Man’ and ‘In the Navy.’
Though the popularity of disco waned during the dawn of the 1980s, the ‘90s saw a resurgence for the band, with the group performing in Sydney, Australia during 1991’s New South Wales Rugby Final and at the MTV Movie Awards. The 2000s saw them opening for Cher during her Farewell Tour through 2005 and the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008. Last year, the group released A Village People Christmas, their first new studio album in 33 years.
“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. 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,” Belolo told Red Bull Music Academy in a 2004 interview.
“So I was not doing this, really, as a businessman trying to make a fortune, and it happens anyway, after. But I always say what comes from the heart goes to the heart. I really did it as a provocative, subversive way of telling you, ‘This is the way it is.’”