“I am devastated by the untimely death of Henri Belolo who was my former producer, mentor and co-creator of Village People,” lead singer Victor Willis said in a statement to Rolling Stone. ” Henri who actually died on August 3, 2019, 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 France [in] Paris, but we are working on a public memorial service which is expected to be announced soon.”
The French producer was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1936 and was reared on American and African music brought over by U.S. troops. When he was in his 20s he moved to Paris, France where he worked as a DJ and music producer. In 1973, he moved to the U.S., where he later teamed up with producer and fellow Moroccan Jacques Morali.
In 1975, he and Morali produced the Ritchie Family’s “Brazil,” which grew into a hit on the club circuit and eventually became popular worldwide. Beloli and Morali’s partnership proved fruitful and continued into the next decade.
Morali and Beloli 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, sailor/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 Eighties, the Nineties 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, its first new studio album in 33 years.
While Beloli was not gay, his music partner Morali was (Morali died of complications from AIDS in November 1991), and Beloli became a strong ally, seeing the injustice early on, although that was not his initial motivation.
“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,” Beloli 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.’”