Frank Farian, Music Producer Who Created Milli Vanilli and Boney M, Dies at 82

Frank Farian, the influential electronic music producer, composer and founder of the German/Caribbean disco funk ensemble Boney M, and the man behind the creation of the notorious pop duo Milli Vanilli. died Tuesday at 82. The news was confirmed by his agency, Allendorf Media.

Boney M, which essentially consisted of Farian and a handful of session musicians, was a sensation of the Eurodisco scene of the 1970s and 80s, starting with 1974’s dance single, “Baby Do You Wanna Bump,” and continuing through eight gold and platinum-selling albums. Yet, for all of Boney M’s fame, Farian never appeared on the covers of any of its albums. 

In 1988, Farian signed then-Munich-based dancers and singers Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan to a production contract and named the R&B vocal duo Milli Vanilli. Unimpressed by the pair’s vocal prowess, but in awe of their good looks, Farian produced a breakout album for the duo, co-writing songs such as “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” “All or Nothing” and “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” which along with the smash “Girl You Know It’s True” were recorded by vocalists including John Davis, Charles Shaw, Brad Howell and twin singing sisters Jodie and Linda Rocco. 

First out in Europe in 1988 as “All or Nothing” – retitled “Girl You Know It’s True” for North America’s album release on the Arista label – the Rob-and-Fab-fronted Milli Vanilli debut went 6-times platinum in the United States alone and won the pair the 1990 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. But lip-synch scandals and an insistence by Morvan and Pilatus on singing on a follow-up album brought troubles to a head within the Milli Vanilli camp. By November 1990, Farian announced that he had fired the duo, confessed they did not sing on the Milli Vanilli tracks, and that other vocalists besides its handsome music video-friendly frontmen made the music.

Pilatus and Morvan were forced to give up Milli Vanilli’s 1990 Grammy for Best New Artist and were, along with Arista Records, part of a class action suit involving U.S. consumer fraud. Farian got away without a scratch and continued his behind-the-scenes career.

Morvan sent a statement to the Guardian following the announcement of Farian’s death that read, “My condolences to his family. His music will live on. We can never deny the happiness and joy it brought into this world.” 

Liz Mitchell, the Jamaican-born British vocalist in the initial Boney M lineup, told the Guardian that “we shared and united under a star which rose above and beyond what we ever dared to expect. I say well done to the work that we did. Rest in peace Frank.”

Farian was a mixture of apologetic and defensive when the Milli Vanilli scandal unraveled in 1990, saying that Americans were overly focused on issues of authenticity in pop music, unlike the rest of the world. ““Here in Europe, everything is positive,” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Stars play a greater role in America. They’re taken so much more seriously. And they love the scandal. This music–it’s just for dancing!”

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He continued, “What was the betrayal? Did anyone in America believe that the Village People or the Monkees really sang themselves? The Archies? Please. Everyone’s been doing it for 25 years. Madonna, Janet Jackson–these perfect dance shows are expected now. So the best way to go onstage is with tapes. But you have to say what you’re doing. I know this…. Here in Europe everyone is more cool. They write about it, but not like I’m Saddam Hussein. Read the American press and you’d think I’m more important than Saddam.”

Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” taking off the way it did was beyond his imaginings, even after his series of international hits with Boney M. “I thought, OK, it’s just for discotheques and clubs,” he told the Times. “I never thought it would be a great hit, not No. 1, not Top 10 in America. And then it was too late and I was too embarrassed to say anything.”

He took some pride in finally becoming famous in America, even via a scandal. “Someday we’ll be able to laugh about all this,” he said. “It’s a pity that I became recognized this way. My great dream is still to produce for 10 more years and be like Quincy Jones. People are realizing now that the new artists are producers. That’s the most important role now.”

Born Franz Reuther in Kirn, Germany on July 18, 1941, Farian became a trained chef (food being something of a passion throughout his lifetime), before starting a band, Frankie Boys Schatten, releasing a 1964 single, “Shouting Ghost,” and changing his name. In 1975, when his dance cut “Baby Do You Wanna Bump” was released, Farian created the Boney M pseudonym, after a character in an Australian detective series.

An assemblage of West Indian singers and dancers became the front performers for Boney M and smashes such as 1976’s “Daddy Cool” and 1978’s “Rasputin,” although Farian sang along with Bobby Farrell on most of the band’s studio recordings. In 1985, Farian started Far Corporation with a handful of Toto musicians — Steve Lukather, David Paich and Bobby Kimball — and recorded “Division One,” an album featuring a cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” which became a top 10 hit in Great Britain. Other faceless Farian-made bands include the Eurodance-inspired La Bouche and Le Click.

Along with the projects he generated himself, Farian produced Meat Loaf’s 1986 album “Blind Before I Stop.” He famously claimed to have turned down Michael Jackson’s invitation to produce his 1991 album, “Dangerous.” Farian created a 2006 stage musical out of Boney M’s “Daddy Cool” that opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End, featuring songs by Milli Vanilli and La Bouche.

Farian died in his Miami, Florida home and is survived by his children and his long-time partner, Chinya Onyewenjo.

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