As a founding member of the Village People and the group’s longest serving member Felipe Rose has earned the right to call himself the “grandaddy of disco”.
Rose, a solo artist who recently released Back To My Roots, a funky dance single with nods to his Native American heritage, is immensely proud of his four decades with the group. “We were about inclusion, celebrating who you are and living your life your way,” he explains from his home in the US, where he’s been busy performing at Pride gigs across the country.
Rose was a young singer and dancer living in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1970s when he was scouted by music producer Jacques Morali. Rose stood out from all the other pretty young men as he was wearing Native American dress and ankle bells (yes, even before joining the music group most synonymous with fancy dress, Rose was happiest in costume).
“My father is of Taino and Lakota descent so I used to go out in the Village all the time in Native American dress,” he says. “I was in the first generation after Stonewall. I came out in 1970 and moved in the Village in 1972. They were great times. I was following my dreams, I felt free.”
Morali recruited Rose to join the Village People, a disco group formed around lead singer Victor Willis, a complicated character who also co-wrote some of the group’s most suggestive lyrics. Each member of the group dressed as a macho fantasy persona; alongside Rose’s Native American was the construction worker, the police officer, the cowboy, the biker and the military man.
The catchy tunes and camp get-up made the Village People a global sensation and the group enjoyed chart success with Macho Man, Go West, You Can’t Stop The Music, In the Navy and YMCA, the VP’s biggest hit which is now a gay anthem. The accompanying YMCA dance is still regularly performed at major sporting events in US, and at weddings and parties everywhere.