The Village People started life as a group based on sterotypes of the New York gay subculture, but instead ended up being one of the most successful groups of the time for two years with hits such as Macho Man, In the Navy and the infamous YMCA.
In The Beginning
In 1976, Jacques Morali, a French record producer who was already having success with the Ritchie Family, decided to manufacture a band flaunting gay stereotypes whilst still appealing to heterosexual and homosexual people alike. Morali secured a recording contract with Casablanca Records on the strength of his reputation and his concept, and started to look for his ideal group.
Late one evening, Morali meandered though Greenwich Village looking for inspiration when he met a dancer named Felipe Rose on his way to work at the Anvil Club dressed in Native American garb. Interested, Morali followed Rose where eventually he was joined by a dancer in a Cowboy outfit. The image of a cowboy and an indian dancing together, two masculine roles dancing together in a gay nightclub in the early hours of the morning sparked Morali's interest and an idea was born.
With his business partner, Henri Belolo, he hired Phil Hurtt and Peter Whitehead to compose songs with ambiguous gay themes and recorded them with Broadway vocalist Victor Willis.
The band, only comprising of Rose and Willis, entered the UK charts very quickly, and soon American Bandstand were asking for the group to appear. Morali quickly placed an advert saying "Macho Types Wanted: Must Have Mustache", and the remaining band members were found.
The band now consisted of:
These characters were dressed in traditional attire for their roles and appeared together for the first time in February 1977 at the 2001 Odyssey Club in Brooklyn where the majority of Saturday Night Fever had just been filmed. They were an overwhelming success.
International hits Macho Man, YMCA and In The Navy followed and the Village People became famous worldwide with a sell-out stadium tour. The gay disco and dance scene embraced the group at first, but slowly they tired of the group when the mainsteam audience followed the band.
Despite this, the Village People began to shoot their own film Can't Stop The Music in 1979 without their lead singer Willis, who had left the band to start a solo career which ultimately failed. Ray Simpson, brother of vocalist Valerie Simpson, was brought in to front the band due to his reputation through back-up vocal work. The film, and the band, however failed due to a backlash towards disco which was then sweeping through America.
The Village People tried to reinvent themselves in the style of the New Romantic scene which was just beginning in Great Britain. Through this, Hodo and Simpson left the group to be replaced by Miles Jaye.
For the next few years, the Village People were not seen in the public eye, but due to generous contracts from Morali, they lived well until they were inspired by the Monkees' 20th anniversary reunion tour. By 1987 the Village People had started to tour once again, and worked themselves up to the lucrative business convention and nostalgia events.
By this time the line-up consisted of:
Together they created Sixuvus Ltd to control their business interests.
In 1991, Morali died of an AIDS related illness followed by Hughes' death from lung cancer in 2001. Hughes was previously replaced by Eric Anzalone.
Their story is now being made in to a film by Columbia Pictures.