Nile Rodgers' contribution to popular music has been extremely significant, so much more than the signature "chucking" style he developed as a brilliant rhythm guitarist. Rodgers not only penned some of the most progressive and popular songs of the disco era with Chic, he also produced countless hits, across several decades, for a wide variety of other artists -- from Diana Ross to Daft Punk -- and remained an inspiration for aspiring musicians born long after disco's supposed death.
Born September 19, 1952 in New York, New York, Rodgers clearly possessed exceptional musical talent early on, and by the age of 19, he was playing guitar as part of the house band for the world famous Apollo Theatre (playing alongside the likes of Aretha Franklin and Funkadelic). He was probably the lone member of the Sesame Street house band with a prior Black Panther Party affiliation. Rodgers soon grew tired of his status as a backup musician, however, and sought to put together a band of his own. He found a like-minded musician in another New York City resident, bassist Bernard Edwards, during the early '70s. For the next few years, Rodgers and Edwards collaborated while playing in such obscure bands as the jazz fusion-based Big Apple Band, and the new wave-based Allah & the Knife Wielding Punks. But the duo's love remained in dance music, and their next musical project would put them on the map, as they formed Chic. With exceptional drummer Tony Thompson and singers Norma Jean Wright and Alfa Anderson rounding out the lineup, Chic quickly grabbed a record deal with Atlantic.
Almost immediately, Chic became the kings (and queens) of the dance/disco domain, scoring such hit albums as 1977's Chic, 1978's C'est Chic, and 1979's Risqué. The band's uptempo, infectious hit singles became dancefloor standards, including "Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah)," and especially a pair of chart-toppers, "Le Freak" and "Good Times." With the dawn of the '80s came the disco backlash, which Chic got caught up in. Their albums sold less and less, resulting in the group's split in 1983, but Rodgers' music career was just beginning. Toward the end of his tenure in Chic, he and Edwards had begun producing and writing for other artists, including hits for Sister Sledge ("We Are Family") and Diana Ross ("I'm Coming Out"). So with Chic no longer occupying most of his time, Rodgers was free to focus solely on working with others. What followed was a string of some of the biggest albums and singles. First up was David Bowie, who was looking for a musical makeover. Rodgers sure did deliver with 1983's Let's Dance, which is one of Bowie's all-time best-selling albums. From there, offers from others flooded in, as Rodgers scored further hits -- INXS' "Original Sin," Duran Duran's "The Reflex" and "Notorious," Madonna's "Like a Virgin," Mick Jagger's "She's the Boss," Jeff Beck's "Flash," The B-52's' "Cosmic Thing," and the Vaughan Brothers' "Family Style," among many others.
Additionally, Rodgers found time during this hectic period to issue a pair of solo albums, 1983's Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove and 1985's B-Movie Matinee, although they failed to match the success of his work with others. He also got deeper into film music and scored films such as Coming to America, Earth Girls Are Easy, and Beverly Hills Cop III. Rodgers and Edwards put together a reunited version of Chic in the early '90s (with an all-new supporting cast), which toured and even issued an album, 1992's Chic-Ism. Rodgers was saluted with his own tribute show in Japan on April 18, 1996 that found him joined on-stage by his old pal Edwards, as well as Sister Sledge, Steve Winwood, Simon LeBon, and Slash. After the celebration, Edwards tragically passed away from pneumonia later that same night. Rodgers continued to be active, founding the We Are Family Foundation, and produced Duran Duran's Astronaut. Rodgers also operated a national music distribution company, Sumthing Distribution, which specialized in video game soundtracks.
Rodgers was as active as ever during the 2010s. At some points, he seemed more prominent than ever. In 2010, he and Rhino France compiled the excellent four-disc box set The Chic Organization Box Set, Vol. 1: Savoir Faire. Despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer the same year, Rodgers kept moving as much as he could. He published the ceaselessly entertaining memoir Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny, continued touring, and worked with Daft Punk on the Grammy-winning Random Access Memories, including "Get Lucky," a number one pop hit in dozens of territories. Shortly after the song's release, he announced that his doctor had given him a secondary "all clear" regarding cancer. Rodgers subsequently worked with Disclosure, Duran Duran, and Laura Mvula, and continued to perform with Chic, including a headlining spot at the 2014 Essence Festival. While a new Chic studio album was in the works, he announced that his band would be headlining Coachella in 2016. ~ Greg Prato & Andy Kellman