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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remembering Mel Cheren

Remembering Mel Chernen. His ashes besides those of Larry Levan
Mel Cheren, dubbed "The Godfather of Disco," left us six years ago today at age 74. He helped create the legendary Paradise Garage in Manhattan and co-founded West End Records. That label was a huge success featuring now-classic artists like Karen Young ("Hot Shot"), Taana Gardner ("Heartbeat"), Barbara Mason ("Another Man") and Loose Joints ("Is It All Over My Face?).

In the 1990s, in one of my frequent visits to the late Louis Morheim's Heartbeat dance-music cd/record store on West 10th St in Greenwich Village, I bumped into Mel Cheren (figuratively) without even realizing it. We smiled, said hello and introduced ourselves. "Mel Cheren," is all he said. Not wanting to fawn over this icon, I simply told him how much I admired his work. He grinned and seemed pleased. But this is still, for me, a cherished Cheren memory.

On his death, an article by Douglas Marin in The New York Times read:  Mel Cheren, an innovative record executive who helped start the Paradise Garage, a cavernous focal point of the downtown Manhattan gay disco scene in the 1970s and ’80s, died on Dec. 7 in Manhattan. He was 74.... The cause was pneumonia as a complication of AIDS, said Sherri Eisenpress, the executor of his estate.

The Village Voice called Cheren a "pioneer who made fundamental contributions to disco music and culture, and nurtured its extended community....  'He was somebody who had the remarkable gift of being able to create family in so many different worlds,' said Mark Cheren, across the altar [at the wake] from a life-size photo of his cousin. Beneath it, two urns containing the ashes of Mel and Larry Levan, the legendary Paradise Garage DJ, rested on a table draped with a rainbow flag and flanked by a glittering disco ball. According to writer Brent Nicholson Earle, who hosted the service, Mel kept the remains of Levan after he passed away in 1992."

The Massachusetts-born Cheren was also a tireless supporter of a cure for AIDS. In 1980-1994, he offered the West 22nd Street space at Colonial House Inn to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, where he once lived and, for 20 years, managed a gay bed and breakfast currently operated by his cousin, Illya Dekhtyar. In a sardonic twist of fate, Mel Cheren contracted the disease later in his life.

Mel Cheren made a difference in the world of music, politically and as a humanitarian. Today, Dj Buddy Beaverhausen and Our City Radio commemorate the anniversary of the passing of this great human being and his legacy.

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