FELIPE ROSE: NATIVE AMERICAN LGBTQ ICON

Written by on September 15, 2018

Story by: Chuck Tackett
FELIPE ROSE: NATIVE AMERICAN LGBTQ ICON

“Donna Summer was a precursor to Madonna. At the time of her death, she along with Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Madonna was working on a collaboration all dance album with other female singers she had a huge impact on.”

Felipe Rose  –  Member, The Village People

If you are a regular reader of my weekly articles, you know there is no apology from me for highlighting Non-White LGBTQs. For the longest time, LGBTQs of color have complained that we are treated as though we are invisible, and a lot of time left out in mainstream LGBTQ history.

Also, if you are a regular reader of my articles, you know I do not pay attention to assigned months dedicated to marginalized folks. For example, Black History Month is not just in February, but 12 months, 365 days a year. History is always told from the viewpoint of the oppressor, and not the oppressed.

With that said, that is why I am not waiting until November, which is Native American Heritage Month, to write about a legendary Native American icon, Felipe Rose.

If the name Felipe Rose sounds familiar, it should, especially amongst Baby Boomers. Felipe is the co-founder of the legendary disco group, “The Village People.”

Felipe came into prominence in the 1970’s from the urban and Gay discos of New York City. He was best known in those days as the “Native Indian” dancer/singer. In those days, he was inspired by his parents’ heritage: His mother was Puerto Rican, and his father was Lakota-Sioux.

Rose’s mom was his main inspiration. She had been a dancer at The Copacabana club during the 1930’s and 40’s. In 1970, at the age of 16, Felipe won a scholarship to study dance with the Ballet de Puerto Rico under the guidance of Pascual Guzman. In one of Rose’s performances, The New York Post called his dancing “poignant and compelling.”

When Rose was working as a dancer and bartender at the Gay club called “The Anvil” in New York City, he would be serving full tribal regalia in honor of his father. He was discovered at The Anvil by French producer Jacques Morali and Executive producer Henri Bololo. Being their very first recruit, they thought Felipe’s unusual appearance would target disco’s Gay audiences.

Jacques and Henri were fascinated by Rose’s attire, and saw the potential of organizing a group where each member had a different costume and identity.

While Jacques and Henri were recruiting, they sent Felipe to Paris where he choreographed a Native American dance number for the “Crazy Horse Saloon.” When he returned, he suggested to the two producers that the other members wear uniforms representing the different “manly” occupations in New York’s City Greenwich Village. Thus, “The Village People” was born.

After scoring several disco hits, The Village People went mainstream and became famous worldwide. The rest, you can say, is history.

Four decades this year, The Village People are celebrating their 40th year anniversary, and they are still performing worldwide. Their 1978 hit “YMCA” is a pop culture stable. Generations have performed the dance by using their arms to form the letters, Y-M-C-A when singing the song.

Rose has also embarked on a solo career. In 1996, he formed The Tomahawk Group, and Tomahawk Records that focuses on songwriting and talent development. Rose released his 1st single “Trail Of Tears,” the retelling of the forced removal of The Cherokee Nation from their land.

Rose has received rave reviews and was nominated for 3 Native American Music Awards. His song “Trail of Tears” took home Best Historical Reading.”

Felipe tours with “The Village People” when he wants to take a break from recording.

Felipe donated his gold single of “YMCA” before an international audience to the National Museum of The American Indian.”

The outfits that Felipe wears on stage when he is performing with “The Village People” are not costumes. He is honoring his Native American roots. He is known as a “Shadow Walker,” an Indigenous term for being Bi-racial because of his Puerto Rican mother and his Lakota-Sioux father along with being “Two-Spirited” because Rose is Gay.

To this day, and for decades, Felipe has donated much time and money supporting causes such as LGBTQ community issues, anti-bullying, The American Indian College Fund, Labor Union rights, and the environment, just to name a few.

The late R&B singer James Brown also known as “The Godfather of Soul” was known as “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Maybe it’s time t pass that torch to Felipe Rose.

Chuck’s Chat operates under an open authority. Opinions and comments are always welcome. Send them to soultraindancing@yahoo.com




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