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Rodgers in 2012
|Nile Gregory Rodgers Jr.|
September 19, 1952 |
New York City, New York, U.S.
Nile Gregory Rodgers Jr. (born September 19, 1952) is an American record producer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger and guitarist. He is the lead guitarist and co-founding member with Bernard Edwards of the band Chic, which has been active since 1976 and was one of the most successful groups of the disco era. He is famed for his "chucking" rhythm guitar style.
Although he recorded three solo albums during the 1980s and 1990s, and one as part of the short-lived group Outloud, Rodgers has found more success in collaboration as producer and performer with many artists including Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Philip Bailey, Thompson Twins, Sheena Easton, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Duran Duran, Madonna, INXS, Britney Spears, Spoons, and more recently, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Avicii, Disclosure, Sam Smith, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Max Pezzali, Nervo, Laura Mvula, Sigala, Keith Urban and Christina Aguilera. On April 7, 2017, Rodgers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received an Award for Musical Excellence.
Rodgers' mother, Beverley, became pregnant at age 13, and gave birth to him in the Bronx, New York City. His father, Nile Sr. was two years older. His parents and stepfather were all Beatniks and heavy heroin users throughout his childhood. With music all around him in his childhood, he tried out all of his school's band instruments, before a love of the Beatles and John Lennon drew him towards the electric guitar, especially the Fender Stratocaster.
He began his career as a session guitarist in New York, touring with the Sesame Street band, led by Joe Raposo, in his teens, and then working in the house band at Harlem's world-famous Apollo Theater, playing behind Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Maxine Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Betty Wright, Earl Lewis and the Channels, Parliament-Funkadelic, and many other R&B artists.
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Nile met bassist Bernard Edwards in 1970 while working as a touring musician for the Sesame Street stage show. Together they formed The Big Apple Band, and worked as back-up musicians for the vocal group New York City ("I'm Doin' Fine Now"). New York City's one hit allowed them to tour extensively, even opening for The Jackson 5 on the American leg of their first world tour in 1973.
The band dissolved after their second album failed to yield a hit, but Nile and Bernard joined forces with drummer Tony Thompson, and worked and recorded as a Funk Rock band called The Boys, which played numerous gigs up and down the East Coast. Despite major label interest in their demos, they could not get a record deal when the record companies discovered they were black, as they thought that black rock artists would be too hard to promote. The band continued playing mostly local bars.
As the Big Apple Band, Rodgers and Edwards worked with Ashford & Simpson, Luther Vandross, and many others. Since another New York artist, Walter Murphy, had a band also called The Big Apple Band, Rodgers and Edwards were forced to change their band's name to avoid confusion. Thus, in 1977 the band was renamed as Chic. Rodgers has stated that a major inspiration was a Roxy Music gig he saw in London:
It was a totally immersive artistic experience - the crowd were fly, the band were fly, the music was textual, they were saying 'come into my world'.
Between gigs, they recorded their first album with then-boss Luther Vandross, who provided background vocals on the group's early recordings. The band scored numerous top ten hits and helped propel disco to new levels of popularity. Chic's chart-topping songs "Le Freak", "I Want Your Love", "Everybody Dance", "Dance, Dance, Dance", "My Forbidden Lover", and "Good Times" became club/pop/R&B standards.
"Le Freak" was composed after being turned away from Studio 54, despite being invited by Grace Jones.  "Le Freak" was Atlantic Records' only triple platinum selling single for more than 35 years and "Good Times" shot to the No. 1 spot in spite of the "Disco Sucks" backlash in 1979.
The success of Chic's first singles led Atlantic to offer Rodgers and Edwards the opportunity to produce any act on its roster. They chose Sister Sledge, whose 1979 album, We Are Family, peaked at No. 3 and remained on the charts well into 1980. The first two singles, "He's the Greatest Dancer" and the title cut "We Are Family" both reached No. 1 on the R&B chart, and No. 6 and No. 2, respectively on the Pop chart. "He's the Greatest Dancer" was sampled in 1998 on Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It". The combination of Rodgers' cocaine addiction, insomnia and Edwards' family later separated the pair as partners as the circumstances led Rodgers to work at an increasing rate while Edwards began to slow down.
In 1980, Rodgers and Edwards wrote and produced the album Diana for Diana Ross, yielding the smash hits "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out". Chic's song "Good Times" played a pivotal role in the explosion of hip hop music, as an interpolation of the song's bass line and the record's string-section sample was the bedrock of The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight", the first multiple-platinum Hip Hop single. The Chic Organization produced the smash hit "Spacer" for French disco act Sheila and B. Devotion and Deborah Harry's 1981 solo album Koo Koo.
Chic dissolved in 1983 after its final Atlantic album on their contract, Believer and Soup For One (a film soundtrack). At that time Rodgers began a solo career producing his first album Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove.
Rodgers produced David Bowie's biggest selling album Let's Dance with several hit singles including "China Girl", "Modern Love" and the title track, "Let's Dance". He produced the single "Original Sin" by INXS. Duran Duran worked extensively with Rodgers after he remixed their largest selling hit single, "The Reflex" in 1984 and followed up with "The Wild Boys" on their 1984 live album, Arena.
In 1984, he produced Madonna's blockbuster album Like a Virgin, spawning her two signature hits "Material Girl" and the album's title track, "Like a Virgin". The album saw an unofficial reunion of Chic's core members, with Rodgers, Edwards, drummer Tony Thompson and keyboard player Robert Sabino all contributing. Rodgers joined Robert Plant's platinum selling studio band The Honeydrippers, on The Honeydrippers: Volume One.
This period sparked Rodgers' interest in soundtracks, the first of which were Alphabet City, Gremlins ("Out Out" - Peter Gabriel), Against All Odds ("Walk Through the Fire" - Peter Gabriel), That's Dancing ("Invitation to Dance" - Kim Carnes), White Nights (numerous songs) and The Fly ("Help Me") - Bryan Ferry).
In 1985, Rodgers produced albums for Sheena Easton, Jeff Beck, Thompson Twins, Mick Jagger, and many others, while still finding time to perform at Live Aid with Madonna and the Thompson Twins. He was awarded No. 1 Singles Producer in the World in Billboard magazine to close out the year.
In 1986, he produced Duran Duran's Notorious album, which yielded a No. 2 title track hit, "Notorious". Rodgers contributed to numerous other projects and appearances with members of the band throughout the 1980s. He also produced albums for Grace Jones, Earth Wind and Fire's vocalist Phillip Bailey, and Al Jarreau. Rodgers performed on "Higher Love" with Steve Winwood, and records for Cyndi Lauper, Howard Jones, and David Sanborn. He then worked on the soundtrack for Laurie Anderson's Home of the Brave.
Rodgers formed the short-lived experimental band Outloud in 1987, with David Letterman's guitarist, composer, and vocalist Felicia Collins and acclaimed French session musician, producer, composer, and keyboardist Philippe Saisse; the trio released a single album, Out Loud, on Warner Bros. Records.
In 1988, Rodgers composed his first orchestral soundtrack for the film Coming to America (the second highest-grossing film of the year) starring Eddie Murphy. Rodgers followed this with soundtracks for White Hot (the world's first Hi-Def feature motion picture), and Earth Girls Are Easy. The latter would pair him with The B-52's.
In 1989, he co-produced The B-52's comeback multi-platinum album Cosmic Thing, which had the hit singles "Love Shack", "Roam", "Cosmic Thing" and "Deadbeat Club". That year he also produced Workin' Overtime, Diana Ross' return to Motown, a deal that scored her an executive position at the label, along with releases by the Dan Reed Network, Slam, and Duran Duran's compilation, Decade, which was appropriately titled. It was the most successful decade for Rodgers and also for many of the artists he worked with.
In February 1990 Nile Rodgers was a guest host on VH1's New Visions World Beat where he interviewed Toots Hibbert (the frontman of Toots and the Maytals who also performed on the show). In September 1990, Epic Records released the Rodgers produced Vaughan Brothers album, Family Style, shortly after the untimely death of guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Early in this decade he also produced projects for David Bowie, Eric Clapton, The B-52s, David Lee Roth, Ric Ocasek, The Dan Reed Network, Cathy Dennis, Patty Griffin,Jimmie Vaughan, The Stray Cats and many other artists, along with continuing soundtrack work on Thelma and Louise, Cool World and The Beavis and Butt-head Experience (co-writer of "Come to Butt-head"). After a 1992 birthday party where Rodgers, Bernard Edwards, Paul Shaffer and Anton Fig played old Chic hits to rapturous response. Rodgers and Edwards reformed a new version of Chic. They recorded a fresh crop of material for the album Chic-Ism and performed live worldwide.
In 1996, Rodgers released the album Chic Freak and More Treats in Japan, containing re-recordings of old Chic material with guest vocalists. In April 1996, Rodgers was honored as the JT Super Producer of the Year. He performed with Bernard Edwards, Sister Sledge, Steve Winwood, Simon Le Bon and Slash in a series of commemorative concerts in Japan, which provided a career retrospective. Unfortunately, Rodgers found his longtime musical partner and close friend, Bernard Edwards dead in his hotel room the morning after their last performance. A year later, Rodgers returned to Japan to pay homage to his fallen partner. In 1999, Rodgers released Live at the Budokan, a live recording of the April 17, 1996 JT Super Producer concert and made the decision not to make any overdubs or changes in order to keep the purity of his last performance with Edwards.
He started playing live concerts again while composing and producing music for film soundtracks: Beverly Hills Cop III, Blue Chips, The Flintstones and Feeling Minnesota (working with Bob Dylan), to name but a few. In 1997, Notorious BIG released "Mo Money Mo Problems" sampling Rodgers & Edwards' song "I'm Coming Out" from Diana Ross's 1980 platinum album, diana. "Mo Money, Mo Problems" topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and was nominated for the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
In 1998, Rodgers founded Sumthing Else Music Works record label and Sumthing Distribution, an independent music label distributor. Sumthing focuses on distributing a fast-growing new genre: video game soundtracks. Its titles include the complete Halo and Resident Evil franchises and other well-known Triple-A game soundtracks like Gears of War and Borderlands.
Rodgers focused on many soundtrack projects, film and video games alike. Among them were: Rush Hour 2, Snow Dogs and Semi-Pro starring Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the title song "Love Me Sexy" with Rodgers. In 2002-03 he co-produced Astronaut, with the original five members of Duran Duran.
In 2002, Rodgers appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD Red Hot and Riot. The CD, a tribute to the music and positive social message of afropop pioneer, Fela Kuti, featured Rodgers on remakes of Kuti songs "Water No Get Enemy" and "Zombie (Part Two)". Rodgers appeared on "Water No Get Enemy" alongside influential hip-hop and R&B artists, D'Angelo, Macy Gray and The Soultronics, and on "Zombie (Part Two)" with famous jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. All proceeds of the CD were donated to charities working towards greater AIDS awareness.
The September 11 attacks prompted Rodgers to create the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) to help promote the healing process. To begin, he organized a re-recording of the song he and Edwards wrote for Sister Sledge called "We Are Family" with more than 200 musicians, celebrities, and personalities. Director Spike Lee filmed the "We Are Family" music video and director Danny Schechter filmed a documentary depicting the recording sessions called The Making and Meaning of We Are Family. The film was chosen as a Sundance Film Festival Special Selection in 2002. Rodgers then produced another "We Are Family" music video involving more than 100 beloved children's television characters. The children's music video airs as a public service announcement on Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and PBS stations promoting a common humanity and celebrating the vision of a global family.
Rodgers received the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) NY Chapter's Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Heroes Award. On September 19, 2005, he was honored at the Dance Music Hall of Fame in New York when he was inducted for his many outstanding achievements as a producer, along with former bandmate Bernard Edwards. He has been nominated to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 11 times - 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Rodgers served as co-musical director for the tribute concert to Ahmet Ertegün at the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summer of 2006. A PBS documentary, Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built, uses footage from this show, as it was one of the last times Ertegün would be captured on video.
In 2010, Rhino Records released a four-CD box set, Nile Rodgers Presents The Chic Organization, Volume 1: Savoir Faire, which for the first time collected tracks from all of the acts produced by The Chic Organization up to their original break-up in 1983. Rodgers provided sleevenotes for the set, which was also reissued in 2013.
Rodgers' critically acclaimed autobiography entitled Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny was published by Spiegel & Grau, a Random House imprint, in late 2011. It was named one of the top 10 of the 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time by Rolling Stone.
In October 2011, Rodgers worked with singer Adam Lambert in New York on a song entitled "Shady" for Lambert's second album, Trespassing. Both Rodgers and Lambert tweeted enthusiastically about the collaboration, and Rodgers also mentioned it on his blog Planet C.
In February 2012, Rodgers announced that he was collaborating with electronic band Daft Punk for their latest album, "teasing out their R&B influences". During a live interview for the UMFTV at the 2013 Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Rodgers confirmed that he was working with Daft Punk, as well as recording multiple tracks with Avicii, and mentioned work with Chase & Status and Felix da Housecat.
On March 31, 2013, BBC Four broadcast a documentary about his music life, Nile Rodgers: The Hitmaker, starting from the point that Chic was formed until the present, including stories about his involvement in producing numerous hits and albums for some of the world's best artist and bands.
True to his word, Rodgers performed on Daft Punk's chart-topping album Random Access Memories. Rodgers co-wrote and played guitar on three tracks: "Give Life Back to Music", "Lose Yourself to Dance", and "Get Lucky". On April 21, 2013 "Get Lucky" entered the official UK Singles Chart at No. 3, despite having been available for little more than 24 hours, and rose to No. 1 on April 28, 2013. In an interview with Official Charts Company, Rodgers said, "I've had big records and Number 1s; I have had records that were Number 1 in the United States but nowhere else... I've had records which have done well [in the UK], but not in the States. But to have this ubiquitous record, that is a hit everywhere... It's amazing to me! I'm out on the road and I can hear it wherever I go. I'm flabbergasted!"
Rodgers declined to perform "Get Lucky" live until performing it live with Daft Punk, but at Chic's live shows in 2013, the record would usually be played immediately after the group's set, with Rodgers remaining on stage to lead the crowd in clapping and singing along. After Rodgers performed the song with Daft Punk at the Grammy Awards in January 2014, "Get Lucky" was added to the setlist for Chic's 2014 live dates.
In July 2013, Rhino Records released Nile Rodgers Presents The Chic Organization Up All Night (The Greatest Hits), a compilation album featuring songs written, played or produced by Rodgers and Bernard Edwards for Chic and various artists including Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Carly Simon, Debbie Harry, Johnny Mathis, Sheila & B. Devotion and Norma Jean Right. Up All Night reached No. 2 on the UK Compilation Album Chart for the week ending July 13, 2013. In October 2013, Rhino released Nile Rodgers Presents The Chic Organization Up All Night (The Greatest Hits Disco Edition) that includes a medley taken from CHIC ft. Nile Rodgers' live performance at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival.
On January 26, 2014, Rodgers performed "Get Lucky" with Daft Punk on the Grammy Awards, along with Pharrell Williams and Stevie Wonder, with a medley including elements of Chic's "Le Freak" and Wonder's "Another Star". Rodgers won three Grammy Awards for his work with Daft Punk and Random Access Memories including Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Record of the Year and Album of the Year.
In March 2014, Rolling Stone named Nile Rodgers one of the 50 Most Important People in EDM, stating, "The full scope of Nile Rodgers' career is still hard to fathom, and it's not just ongoing, it's in overdrive."
On May 8, 2014, "The Nile Rodgers Global Creator's Award" was presented to Rodgers by Paul Williams during the Canadian Music Week Festival in Toronto. The Award was originally called "The Global Creator's Award" and it was renamed in 2014 in honor of Rodgers.
On May 21, 2014, the IMS (International Music Summit) Legends Award was presented to Rodgers in Ibiza by Simon LeBon. Rodgers said upon receiving the award: "I am extremely honored to follow Pete Tong, Carl Cox and Fatboy Slim as the fourth recipient of the IMS Legends Award."
On May 22, 2014, Johnny Marr presented Rodgers with the Ivor Novello Awards' "Special International Award". "You hear his heart with his right hand and his soul with his left." Marr remarked upon giving Nile the award. "I hope you feel loved now because you are. You showed what a guitar player could be and what music could be, and always carried yourself with such dignity, grace and positivity."
On July 4, 2014, CHIC ft. Nile Rodgers headlined the 2014 Essence Festival curated by Prince. Special guests performing with Chic during a segment of the show that highlighted Chic's songwriting and production work for other artists, were Kathy Sledge for Sister Sledge's "We Are Family", Janelle Monáe for Sister Sledge's "He's the Greatest Dancer" and Prince for David Bowie's "Let's Dance".
On September 7, 2014 Chic headlined Bestival on the Isle of Wight, UK. Rodgers told Bestival founder, Rob da Bank, he and CHIC would headline if he built the world's largest disco ball.Guinness Book of World Records verified Bestival's disco ball as the largest ever built at 10.33 meters in diameter.
In March 2015, it was announced that Nile Rodgers was working with Kylie Minogue for her new Christmas album. It was also announced that Rodgers and Grace Jones would be supporting acts for Minogue at the British Summer Time on July 21, 2015.
On March 20, 2015, Rodgers released CHIC's first single in more than 23 years, "I'll Be There", with a live streamed concert from The Roundhouse in London, UK. The song, created by Rodgers from original CHIC outtake tapes from the 70s, features original band members', the late bassist Bernard Edwards and drummer Tony Thompson, and vocalists Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin. The music video was filmed by fashion photographers/filmmakers, Inez and Vinoodh, and stars supermodel Karlie Kloss. The song went to #1 on Billboard's Dance Music Chart, June 20, 2015.
On August 4 and 5, 2015, Rodgers launched FOLD Festival (FreakOut! Let's Dance). A multi-day event with a diverse line-up of artists including Beck, Duran Duran, Chaka Kahn, Keith Urban, Janelle Monáe, Ginger Minj, CHIC and many others. Rodgers announced this event is to now take place on a yearly basis.
Rodgers worked on Duran Duran's fourteenth album, Paper Gods, as producer, performer and co-writer on a number of tracks including the single "Pressure Off". The album debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200, the band's highest debut in 22 years. The album also reached number 2 in Italy, number 4 in the Netherlands, and number 5 in the UK.
Rodgers was presented with the 2015 BMI Icon Award at the BMI R&B / Hip Hop Awards on August 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, CA.
Rodgers was inducted into the 2017 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Musical Excellence. "It's sort of bittersweet," says Rodgers. "I'm quite flattered that they believed that I was worthy, but my band Chic didn't win. They plucked me out of the band and said, 'You're better than Chic.' That's wacky to me ... I am flattered and I think it's cool, but I feel like somebody put me in the lifeboat and told my family they can't get in." 
In March 2018, Nile Rodgers was the subject of a Front and Center episode that aired on PBS, "Front and Center: Songwriters Hall of Fame: Nile Rodgers," which captures his and the late Bernard Edwards' induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as an intimate concert and talk at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City.
In March and April 2018, Rodgers and Chic performed in Australia as support for Lionel Richie.
Rodgers plays a 1960 Fender Stratocaster with a 1959 neck, affectionately nicknamed "The Hitmaker", which he acquired as a trade-in at a small shop in Miami Beach, Florida. Exceptionally light, it has a maple fingerboard and bears a well-worn white finish. Rodgers claims that it does not sound like any other Stratocaster in the world. In his autobiography, Le Freak, An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny, Rodgers stated:
One day, following a gig in Miami, Nard got me to trade in my prized jazz guitar, a hollow-bodied Gibson Barney Kessel, for a sleek solid-bodied Fender Stratocaster, the six-string equivalent of trading in a Range Rover for a Porsche. The local act that opened for us played on our equipment, and their guitar player sounded better than I did on my own amplifier. Nard convinced me it was the guitar that made the difference. His soul-man makeover plan was working. He came to my room to admire my new guitar and showed me the style the other guy had played on my amp. He fingered the chords with his left hand, and his right hand would continuously play sixteen notes to the bar while accenting the main parts of the rhythm. He called it "chucking." Bernard used to be a guitar player before he switched to bass, and one lesson was all I needed. For the next few nights straight, while my roommate pursued all manner of trysts, I was having a love affair in the bathroom with my new ax. In just a few days, I'd emerge as a chucking funk guitarist who knew more jazz chord inversions than most of my R&B counterparts.
The Fender Custom Shop introduced a limited edition Nile Rodgers Hitmaker Stratocaster guitar, a recreation of Rodgers' own guitar, in January 2014.
In January 2011 Rodgers revealed on his website that he had aggressive prostate cancer, which had been diagnosed in October 2010. As a result, he started a cancer blog called "Walking on Planet C" detailing his status and upcoming projects.
On July 29, 2013, Rodgers posted on Twitter that he had been given the all-clear regarding his cancer. In November 2013, he gave an interview to BBC News talking about Daft Punk, Madonna, Diana Ross and beating cancer.