Henri Belolo, the music producer and co-founding architect of the Village People, has died at age 82, the French authors’ copyright board said Monday.
Born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1936 to a sailor and a model, the French songwriter grew up listening to American pop and African tribal music. After starting out as a DJ, he moved to Paris to work as a music producer for a few years before moving to the U.S. in 1973. There, he met producer, fellow Moroccan and future business partner Jacques Morali. Together, the impresarios helped pioneer the disco movement during the late 1970s in New York. They assembled and managed the six-piece band that would become the Village People, which exploded into pop culture with huge hits “Y.M.C.A.”, “In the Navy” and “Macho Man” among others.
Playing on campy fantasy and unabashed homoerotic flair using costumed characters — a butch builder, biker, cowboy, soldier and (who could forget) and Indian — the Village People quickly became a pop music phenomenon. “Y.M.C.A.” quickly became a chart-topping anthem for the LGBTQ community, which included Morali, Belolo’s business partner who was gay and died of AIDS in 1991. At the height of his career, Morali also wrote songs for Cher and the Franco-Egyptian diva Dalida.
Though Belolo was not gay, he saw the band’s image as embodying the carefree party spirit of the community in the years before the AIDS epidemic.
Belolo and Morali also helped popularize breakdancing and hip hop in Europe in the early ’80s with the New York group Break Machine.
The French society of authors, Sacem, told Agence France-Presse that Belolo’s son confirmed his father’s death.
“Sad to learn of the death of Henri Belolo,” the group tweeted. “He contributed to the rise of dance, disco and house music in France and wrote for… the Village People,” it added.
Belolo and Morali had already been successful in France with their record label Carabine before the friends left for the US in 1973, where they formed the Philadelphia disco outfit, The Richie Family, who had a global hit with “The Best Disco in Town” in 1976.