Henri Belolo, co-founder of Village People, dies aged 82

The producer, lyricist and promoter helped disco-era pop group to hits in US and UK, but later became embroiled in a legal dispute with their singer

Henri Belolo, a co-founder of pop group Village People, has died aged 82.

The group confirmed the news on their Facebook page, along with Belolo’s record label Scorpio, who wrote in tribute: “We extend our deepest sympathies to Henri’s family ... Henri will live on in our hearts and minds forever.”

Born in Casablanca in 1936, Belolo began his career as a producer, concert promoter and A&R man in Paris, where he worked with artists including film star Jeanne Moreau. In 1973, he moved to New York where he formed the Village People with producer Jacques Morali and singer Victor Willis. With their emphatic embrace of gay stereotypes and their uplifting disco tracks, the group reached No 1 in the UK with YMCA and No 2 with In the Navy. Both songs also reached the Top 3 in the US.

Belolo, who was straight, and not one of the performers in the flamboyant six-member group, formed Village People after he and Morali saw future member Felipe Rose dancing in a gay bar dressed as a Native American. “We’re looking at the Indian, and on my left I saw a cowboy, like the Marlboro cowboy,” Belolo remembered in 2004. “Stetson on his head, a moustache, good-looking, looking at the Indian dancing. And Morali turned to me and said, ‘Oh God, are you thinking what I’m thinking?’”

Belolo said he formed the group, in part, as a way to champion gay rights. “I really did it as a provocative, subversive way of telling you: this is the way it is,” he said. “I did not like that American mentality of bigotry and hypocrisy.”

He was credited as a co-writer on the group’s hits, though his name was later removed from a number of them after a successful lawsuit from Willis, who claimed he wrote the English-language lyrics for the group. Belolo’s company had argued he wrote French lyrics that Willis adapted.

Willis has nevertheless paid tribute to Belolo, saying he was “devastated” by the news and that Belolo “leaves an impressive body of work that helped shape the disco genre, and as a record executive, he was par excellence”.

Contributor

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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