Many know him as the Native American from Village People fame back in the 1970s, but his career has spanned over 50 years and counting. His decades-long career in music, film, television, and performing has challenged him to keep reinventing himself.
Coming off a busy Pride month and the day before July 4, our first meeting and conversation quickly turned to what is happening politically in our society and especially in the LGBTQ community.
Rose begins, “Well, I mean, let’s just start with last Friday, [June 30], referring to the Supreme Court’s decision to deny website services to an allegedly gay man, and of the recent decisions of the Supreme Court, which have been so outrageous.”
Being denied basic human rights and our current community’s challenges took Rose back to the early 1970s when he was first starting his career at the Anvil in New York City, dancing and performing in night clubs. There, he was recruited by the French producer Jacques Morali who wanted to create a male version of the Ritchie Family, an all-female disco group. That group became the Village People. Rose was the original Taino/Lakota Indigenous member.
Rose describes that summer of 1977, when Anita Bryant’s Save our Children Inc., campaign coincided with the release of the Village People’s eponymous first album. Save Our Children Inc. was the first organized group that opposed the LGBTQ gay rights movement.
Rose describes this moment when everything changed for him, and becoming an activist. He had no intention of becoming an activist. He recalls the slogan from the orange juice commercials in which Anita Bryant promoted “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine” and chuckles, “You have to put that in there!”
The Village People’s first studio album had the song “Fire Island” and on the B-side had “San Francisco” and “In Hollywood.” “That album had the message of unity and love and free to be free and love who we are and be who we are.” That song fueled the movement that summer and was played everywhere, with marches going on across the country, said Rose.
The response from Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records was to throw a big concert in Broward County, Florida, less than a year later. Tickets were $1, and the show was hosted by Cher and headlined the Village People.
Rose states, “That was such a stick-it-to them!” Now, 50 years later, “we are back to this nonsense again.” Rose explains how important it is for the LGBTQ community to stay active and to do their part and hit the streets. “The only thing we can do, it’s going to take two election cycles, ’24 and ’28, to get rid of these people.” There are three justices of the Supreme Court who are in their 50s, which means they are going to affect LGBTQ allies and communities for decades, said Rose, unless everyone gets out to vote, get out strong and vote.
Rose is doing his part by being more vocal and doing speaking engagements in the community. This is especially true during Pride month, which is “like a birthday” for Rose.
Born in January, he cites June as his birthday month because that is his coming-out month. “I graduated, I was a dancer, poor from Brooklyn, with a dance school scholarship, working in clubs, making ends meet, not pretty much homeless, but almost. [laughs].
And then this album drops and I’m ready to celebrate this new career and then the activism part kicked in. I’ve been involved my whole life.”
Back when Rose lived in Richmond, Va., with an ex-partner for five years, he immersed himself into the Native American culture there. Rose is biracial; his mother is Puerto Rican and Italian, and his father is Native American. He identifies himself as two-spirit, a gay man, a shadow walker, because of his biracial roots.
While in Richmond he was invited to read to three or four third-grade classes, as the “Native American of the Village People.” As an avid lover of reading and books he chose Sootface, by Robert D. San Souci, which is an Ojibwa version of Cinderella. The school received a call from a concerned parent asking if he would be “showing up in a loincloth.”
“It’s the fear, see it’s the fear, even if I had walked in with my knee-high moccasins, breast plate and all the kids would have paid no mind. It’s the adults that shape children today and children’s minds. So imagine then, they were afraid of me; pick on a drag queen today, trans and across the board.”
Seeing these setbacks and challenges facing the LGBTQ community, says Rose, “It’s depressing. I was depressed, I really was.” He openly discusses his daily battle with depression. Rose was going through severe depression after his bitter legal battle back in 2017 leading up to 2020 and the pandemic. Living alone and seeing few friends, his now-producer Tyler and songwriter Benny encouraged him to get back into the studio. Tyler posed the question, “What do you miss the most?”
Willie Jolley said, “A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
To that Rose replied, “I miss being in the clubs, I miss dancing.” Hence “Dance Again,” one of Rose’s newest solo singles, was written. He has always used creativity to help him push through his depression. Other singles he wrote have been awarded Native American Music Awards, songs like “Trail of Tears,” “Red Hawk Woman,” and “We’re Still Here.”
Getting back to the studios has been therapeutic for Rose, finding his way through the depression through music. More recently Rose has been doing research on microdosing with psilocybin, in which formal studies are being done about its long-term lasting improvements to mental health. Rose wants to bring attention to mental health in the LGBTQ community through his experiences and advocacy. “It’s not good. We need to really support each other in our community and look in on people when they have something to say.”
As we wrapped our interview time together, I asked Rose how he would want to sum up our conversation. He replied with a quote from author Willie Jolley, “A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
Rose has reinvented himself, staying relevant through his solo singing career, producing, and hosting a podcast called the Disco Chronicles, working on a book about his life separately from “the group,” and painting. Though Rose has endured his own personal highs and lows throughout his 50-year career he remains grateful for his experiences. His most significant accomplishment was when the Village People received their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For him, personally, he would have wanted it to go “a different way [with the group] but the mere fact that it happened, and it was born, and it became a pivotal moment in our time, to represent the culture, through disco music, I think was a brave thing to do. We were the Swifties of our times, the Backstreet Boys… well, they say we were.”
You can find Rose’s podcast The Disco Chronicles, on most platforms.