Today we heard the sad news that Mel Cheren, the longtime New York City dance music icon who helmed West End Records and was a vocal AIDS activist, passed away. Long before major labels jumped on the disco bandwagon and shanghaied it in the ‘70s, Cheren helped promote the genre in the city’s underground and earned the nickname The Godfather of Dance. As an A&R man, he had a golden ear. He signed groundbreaking, chart-topping singles by NYC Peach Boys (“Don’t Make Me Wait”), Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat” and Loose Joints’ (“Is It All Over My Face?”) Decades after their release, producers continue to sample these tracks.
Cheren was also the financial backer of the Paradise Garage and mentored a young DJ named Larry Levan, whose marathon sets continues to influence today’s DJs. In recent years, Cheren issued various label reissue projects (such as West End’s 25th anniversary two-disc set mixed by Masters At Work), wrote a book (My Life and the Paradise Garage: Keep On Dancin’), helmed a bed and breakfast in Chelsea, and dreamed of opening a dance music museum. Cheren would’ve turned 75 next month.
Donations in Mel’s honor can be made to GMHC, 119 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011; The LGBT Community Center at 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011; or LIFEbeat, 630 9th Avenue Suite 1010 New York, NY 10036.