Felipe Rose, a professional dancer, came that night as an American Indian. He was cast as the first "image". Next came singer Alexander Briley, as the uniformed GI/sailor. Victor Willis, who had been in such Broadway musicals as The Wiz and The River Niger, rounded out the trio as lead singer and lyricist (the policeman). His role was as the naval commander and part-time policeman. As all had been recruited from Greenwich Village, Morali decided to call them "Village People".
(an e-mail from the band's management reminded us that there is no "the" in the group's name)
Their first LP was released in 1977 and aimed directly at the gay market. Soon after it hit, auditions were held for three more members. TV actor Randy Jones was hired as a cowboy. Glen Hughes, a former Brooklyn Battery Tunnel toll collector came in as a leather clad biker (a role he played in real life as well). And last was David Hodo, the muscular construction worker in mirrored shades. A great lover of bizarre stunts, his passion for roller skating while eating fire had landed him on the TV show "What's My Line?"
The title cut from their second album, "Macho Man", was a small hit in the summer of 1978 but the album itself went platinum. Then in the fall, they released their third album, "Cruisin'". From that LP came their biggest single, "YMCA". "We were always very positive about our energy and what we did," said Randy. "We never sang about broken hearts, lost love or shattered dreams. We always dealt with positive things, and a very positive place is the YMCA. They have provided food, shelter and spiritual encouragement for a lot of people for more than a century. They provide excellent physical programs for young and old, and its a very positive institution. That's why we decided to sing about it".
At first, YMCA officials were alarmed by the song. They didn't know who Village People were or what they represented. They weren't sure if the tune was a tribute, a rip off or a slap in the face. "We understood their point of view," Randy explained, "and we talked about it before we cut the song. YMCA is a trademark, and a trademark must be protected. If they allowed one person or one group to violate their rights, that would make YMCA public domain, and there'd be YMCA toothbrushes, t-shirts, towels...everything. David and I tried to communicate this to our producers, but couldn't get through. Then, when YMCA became a hit, there was a legal decision that those letters are the property of The Young Men's Christian Association. By that time, though, the Y was thinking of our song as a free commercial, so everything was cool". According to Rolling Stone magazine, YMCA sold more than twelve million copies, worldwide. It spent a full half-year on the charts, peaking in February 1979.
Village People had one other major hit, "In The Navy", in the spring of the same year. Then, in the fall, lead singer Willis, dissatisfied with their direction, quit the group "by mutual agreement". This happened days before shooting was to begin on their first motion picture, Can't Stop the Music. Ray Simpson was brought in to replace Willis, but somehow things just weren't the same. Released in June of 1980, the film, which featured YMCA, was a box office disaster.
In 1981, Village People reorganized and renounced their Disco roots. Full page ads in the music trades displayed their new look and future sound, as "Bowie-type" rockers. By this time, the group had been branded as a novelty act and were quickly forgotten by the record buying public. They split up in 1986 to explore solo careers, but re-united in 1988 and continued to tour.
Village People celebrated their 20th anniversary with a national tour that included New York's Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, and LA's Greek Theatre. They completed a unique documentary, sharing music and culture with Australia's aborigines entitled Village People Go North, Down Under. Both VH-1 and MTV have featured Village People on their programs.
Jacques Morali died on November 15th 1991 of AIDS related causes and Glenn Hughes, the moustachioed, leather-clad biker, died of lung cancer in March of 2001. Hughes was buried in his biker outfit.
A new incarnation of Village People continued to perform, touring with Cher for seven months in 2004 and 2005. When she began her brief retirment, the group set out on their own tour across the United States.
Victor Willis, the naval commander and part-time policeman, was in the news again in January, 2006, after a brief brush with the law. Fortunately for Village People fans, Victor rebounded and by 2007, was again touring to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of his initial recordings with Village People. July 15th, 2008 saw them perform "Y.M.C.A." during the 7th inning stretch at Major League Baseball's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. That September, they received a star on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
On August 16th, 2011, Victor Willis filed notices of copyright termination under the 1976 copyright act, which allows recording artists and writers to reclaim their master recordings and publishing rights initially granted to record companies and publishers after 35 years. In early March, 2015, Victor Willis prevailed in reclaiming 50 percent of the copyright to many of the group's songs, including "Y.M.C.A.".
After a successful tour of the UK and Japan in 2011, Village People were slated for shows in the US, Canada, South Africa, Denmark and New Zealand in 2012. They continued to tour and still had several shows on their tour schedule across the US for the Spring and Summer of 2015. Into 2017, the band was booked in Australia, England, Ireland and America.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with David Hodo