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”.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Henri Belolo obituary
Music producer, promoter and co-founder of groups such as the Ritchie Family and Village People

Frank Broughton

14, Aug, 2019 @4:16 PM

Article image
Rod Temperton, songwriter behind Thriller, dies
British writer of the huge Michael Jackson hit, who also worked with Quincy Jones, Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin, has died of cancer at the age of 66

Guardian music

06, Oct, 2016 @5:55 AM

Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown dies, aged 71
The singer died at home in the Bahamas. He had been suffering from liver cancer

Guardian music and agencies

06, May, 2015 @3:42 PM

Article image
Florian Schneider, Kraftwerk co-founder, dies aged 73
Co-founder of hugely influential electronic pop group, who has died of cancer, had a UK No 1 hit with The Model in 1982

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

06, May, 2020 @3:32 PM

Article image
Bunny Wailer, last surviving founder member of the Wailers, dies aged 73
Reggae artist and three-time Grammy winner found worldwide fame alongside Bob Marley in the early 1970s

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

02, Mar, 2021 @5:21 PM

Article image
David Berman, acclaimed US indie songwriter, dies aged 52
No cause of death has been announced for songwriter and poet known for his projects Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, and his wry, witty lyrics

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

08, Aug, 2019 @5:54 AM

Article image
The Secret Disco Revolution – review
Indu Chandrasekhar: So it turns out that disco was actually a revolutionary tool that ended the oppression of women and black and gay people in the US. Who knew?

Indu Chandrasekhar

26, Oct, 2012 @3:33 PM

Article image
Dick Dale, godfather of surf guitar, dies aged 81
Pioneering musician was known for 1962 hit Misirlou, the theme from Pulp Fiction

Laura Snapes

17, Mar, 2019 @8:52 PM

Article image
Peter Tork, bassist for the Monkees, dies aged 77
Accomplished folk musician and teen star helped move the guitar-pop band beyond their manufactured image

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

21, Feb, 2019 @5:40 PM

Article image
Mark E Smith, founder and lead singer with the Fall, dies aged 60
Famously fractious singer had been suffering from ill health throughout 2017

Rachel Aroesti and Ben Beaumont-Thomas

25, Jan, 2018 @8:09 AM