'In the Navy' songwriter and Village People founder Henri Belolo dies

Phil Briggs
August 09, 2019 - 10:46 am
 Village People at the 2017 Streamy Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on September 26, 2017

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

In the history of music, only one songwriter managed to create both a powerful tool for military recruitment and a dancefloor-filling anthem.

Henri Belolo, who co-wrote the 1970's disco classic "In the Navy" and the man behind both the song and the flashy men's singing group Village People, has died at the age of 82.

Henri Belolo with music group the Village People
Scorpio Music

Above: Belolo surrounded by members of the group he co-founded, Village People.

With Jacques Morali and lead singer Victor Willis, Belolo founded the six-member Village People. In 1978, the group achieved worldwide fame with hits like "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A.," both co-written by Belolo.  A year later, Village People released the album "Go West," which included "In the Navy," another song co-written by Belolo that peaked at No. 3 hit on the chart.

The group and its music have had a lasting impact on pop culture and anyone who can remember the seventies and early eighties. "I remember whenever I told someone what I did, they would immediately sing 'In the Navy,'" recalled Dale Thomas, a Navy veteran stationed in Long Beach, California in the early eighties. "I mean, we got our fair share of jokes from that song.  But I do remember someone on the ship made a video with that song, only it showed what we actually did, and that was pretty funny too."

While a leather-clad biker with a washboard stomach or a muscular American Indian may not be exactly what the Navy is all about, few will ever can forget Village People lead singer Victor Willis proudly wearing Navy whites in the music video.

Whether gay or straight, Belolo's music made people dance and according to the Navy Times the group's nod to the Navy was actually once considered for a recruitment campaign. "The Pentagon approached Beloloto to use the song as a recruiting jingle. So they struck a deal. Belolo agreed to license the tune to the Navy and the service in 1979 let a band ... board the Knox-class frigate Reasoner in San Diego and dragoon sailors as extras for what everyone might concede is a pretty outlandish video. The Navy stuck with “Anchors Aweigh” but Village People got their footage."

Though today's dance music does not usually include shirtless men or handlebar mustaches, it's safe to say that Henri Belolo created a classic that Navy veterans will never forget.

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