Fresh from winning three Grammy Awards for his work with Daft Punk on their ubiquitous smash, "Get Lucky," legendary songwriter/musician/producer, Nile Rodgers, chatted about life, art and a new honor: his being selected for ICON MANN's "28 Men of Change," a groundbreaking initiative that shines a light on Black male professional leaders and philanthropists, which airs on BET throughout Black History Month. This places Rodgers in the company of fellow ICON MANN honorees Steve McQueen, Nick Cannon, Forest Whitaker, Swizz Beatz and Lee Daniels.
While everyone loves and respects Rodgers' musical contributions, many may not realize the impressive mark he has made in the philanthropic world with his We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) named for the 1979 Sister Sledge anthem he wrote and produced with his late, beloved partner and Chic bandmate, Bernard Edwards. WAFF strives to solve some of our biggest problems through global projects that promote peace, and appreciation of cultural diversity.
The concept of philanthropy, community work, whatever you want to call it has been with me all of my life, and it began for me in the 'hood in afterschool programs. I was born very poor in a hardcore ghetto. The afterschool programs were a Godsend to me, and I credit them for helping me become who I am. They gave me enrichment, consistency and a sense of right and wrong. I remember back in the day we always helped little old ladies cross the street. We'd take them gently by the elbow and help them cross. That's how we were socialized. We were socialized to care. At the Grammys the other night, this woman fell hard on the ground as she was leaving her seat. I rushed over and picked her up. Helping is instinct. That's what we all should be doing everyday. Being named one of ICON MANN's "28 Men of Change" is a great honor.
Nile Rodgers' all-star We Are Family benefit recording for WAFF:
Rodgers formed the We Are Family Foundation as a direct response of the tragic events of 9/11 as a way to promote peace.
Three people in my life were on the first plane that crashed into the north tower. It seems backwards to me that it's easy to organize for hate and hard to organize for peace. So I wanted to try to organize for peace. My whole life has been swimming upstream. I've been making hit records where people are saying you can't make them. So I say "why not?" Let's try it and see what happens. People told me "you can't write a record for Diana Ross if you're new." And I thought of course I can and so with Bernard Edwards we wrote and produced Upside Down and I'm Coming Out. Her biggest hits at that time. I'm accustomed to the challenges life throws at me, and I am so accustomed to failure. I can live with failure because from all these failures you have successes. I was swimming upstream and I made it.
Chic Le Freak (1979):
And boy did he make it. With Chic, Rodgers unleashed a string of definitive club classics including Le Freak, I Want Your Love and Good Times, which played a pivotal role in the explosion of hip hop as the song's bass line and string section formed the core of Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight, the first multi-platinum hip hop single. As a producer/musician, his massive parade of 1980s hits defined the decade: Let's Dance, China Girl, Modern Love (David Bowie), The Reflex, Notorious, The Wild Boys (Duran Duran), Like A Virgin, Material Girl (Madonna), Roam (The B-52s), Lay Your Hands On Me, King For A Day (The Thompson Twins), I'm Not Perfect But I'm Perfect For You (Grace Jones), The Jam Was Moving (Debbie Harry), Original Sin (INXS), Moonlighting (Al Jarreau) -- and that's just scratching the surface of his 80s work. His musical footprint in the decades to follow has been just as strong. Ever moving forward, he's currently working on a new Chic album.
The B-52s Roam, Produced by Nile Rodgers (1989):
I had the mentality of an independent rock and roll guy, but the industry kept me locked out and so I took those rock concepts and applied them to R & B. Chic is a combination of Roxy Music and Kiss through Black guys. Every single partnership and record I've made has been a slight variation of my relationship with Bernard Edwards. It doesn't make a difference if it's Duran Duran, Bowie, Daft Punk, my approach is this: we become partners; we're together, it's us against the world, and let the chips fall where they may.
In 2011, Rodgers was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and he beat it! The blog that he kept during this chapter in his life, Planet C, is a must read for anyone struggling with cancer or a loved one with cancer. Another must read is his astonishing 2011 autobiography, Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny. Sitting up close with Rodgers, his bright smile, contagious laugh and insatiable appetite for creating music and living life, it's a wonder he was ever ill. This man created, and continues to create, the soundtrack to our lives, and he was an enormous joy to talk to. Relaxed, funny, smart, candid, inspiring. No wonder ICON MANN has chosen him as one of their "28 Men of Change." Nile Rodgers is a man of change indeed!
Nile Rodgers: The Hitmaker, BBC Documentary Film: