CherenMel Cheren, the Godfather of Disco, passed away this past Friday, a victim of AIDS complications. He was 74. Although he is most commonly associated with his West End label, one of the premier independent disco outlets, as well as his professional and personal connections to fellow dance-music legends like Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan and remix originator Tom Moulton, Cheren's involvement in the music industry can be traced back to the late '50s, when he began working for ABC/Paramount. A stint with Dunhill led the way to a head of production position at Scepter, and there, Cheren pioneered the concept of the instrumental mix as a B-side, as well as the 12" single -- many sources cite Ultra High Frequency's 1973 single "We're on the Right Track" as the first to feature an instrumental mix of the A-side as its B-side, and the same is the case for Jesse Green's 1976 release "Nice and Slow" as the first 12".

It was with West End, founded in 1976, that Cheren aguably made a greater impact. The label's first release, Sesso Matto's "Sessomatto," was one of the first records spun by DJs (like Grandmaster Flash) as a backdrop for MCing. Several enduring club hits, such Taana Gardner's "Heartbeat" (the basis of Ini Kamoze's "Here Come the Hotstepper" and Musiq Soulchild's "B.U.D.D.Y") and Loose Joints' "Is It All Over My Face," were also the result of Cheren's vision and energy.

Cheren found out that he was HIV positive only a few weeks ago, which he addressed in this very recent video interview for CBS News on Logo. One of the first and most generous AIDS activists, he organized several fundraisers and donated his New York City brownstone to Gay Men's Health Crisis. He founded 24 Hours for Life and was a charter member of LIFEbeat's board of directors.

A brief overview of the Cheren's career in the form of a playlist:

  • Patti Jo - Make Me Believe in You

  • Ultra High Frequency - We're on the Right Track

  • B.T. Express - Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)

  • Jesse Green - Nice and Slow

  • Sesso Matto - Sessomatto

  • Karen Young - Hot Shot

  • Taana Gardner - Work That Body

  • Loose Joints - Is It All Over My Face

  • Taana Gardner - Heartbeat

  • Stone - Time

  • Peech Boys - Don't Make Me Wait

Here is the extended trailer for The Godfather of Disco, a documentary about Cheren featuring interviews with Danny Krivit, Red Alert, Marley Marl, and Blaze's Kevin Hedge (also the president of West End). The documentary was inspired by My Life and the Paradise Garage, Cheren's autobiography, published in 2000. It's one of a few books published during the last several years -- along with Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, Love Saves the Day, and Turn the Beat Around -- that has helped reverse the widespread perception of disco music as a bloodless short-lived fad.