Happy days are here again, indeed, as the current trend in pop music reflects the groovy joys of the past. At the helm of this new movement stands the musical genius of the original: Chic. A band known for its genius and lasting impact on music history and culture.
In 1976, guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards founded Chic, a glam rock-inspired disco band. They brought drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardist Raymond Jones, and singer Norma Jean Wright on board in 1977. However, the success of Wright’s solo work led to her departure in 1978, and Alfa Anderson took her place. In fact, this kind of unexpected change is a theme throughout Chic’s legacy. Though Chic would eventually become the greatest disco band of all time, redefining music history, their journey indeed tells a tale of triumph in the face of adversity.
Ah, Freak Out: Making Music History
In 1978, Chic, now known as Nile Rodgers & Chic, released one of the most recognizable tunes ever: “Le Freak.” After a New Years’ meeting with singer Grace Jones fell through, the band wrote Le Freak during a jam session at Edwards’ apartment. This song quickly became a national hit, selling over 6 million copies. In fact, this was the best-selling single at Warner Music for 12 years!
In March 2018, the Library of Congress selected “Le Freak” for preservation in the National Recording Registry. They selected it due to its cultural relevance and impact on music history.
Good Times: Waves of Cultural Impact
For the next couple of years, Chic experienced an incredible amount of success. They released their second album, Risquè, which featured another big hit: “Good Times”. In fact, this is still one of the most influential pop hits of all time. Grandmaster Flash used it as the basis for “Adventures on Wheels of Steel,” and launched Sugarhill Gang into stardom as the foundation of “Rapper’s Delight.” Additionally, the song served as inspiration for Queen, Madonna, and Daft Punk.
Stress, Strife, and Perseverance
Despite the band’s massive talent and influence, the anti-disco sentiment of the 80s stunted their growth. Their struggle to obtain airplay and sales led to their disbandment.
Fortunately, Rodgers and Edwards were both supremely talented musicians and producers, and they regularly produced hit records individually and collaboratively. In fact, Rodgers, Edwards, and Thompson played the instrumental tracks on Diana Ross’ Diana. This album, co-produced by Rodgers and Edwards, featured mega hits like “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.”
Rodgers also co-produced David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” in 1983, and was integral to the success of Madonna’s Like a Virgin in 1984. Like a Virgin reunited Rodgers, Edwards, and Thompson once again. Rodgers went on to perform with Madonna at Live Aid in 1986.
In 1989, Rodgers and Edwards reunited the band and went back into the studio to record “Chic Mystique” and the subsequent album, Chic-ism. Audiences and critics alike met this new effort with enthusiasm and acclaim, and Chic found themselves back on the charts.
An Enduring Legacy
In 1996, Billboard Magazine named Nile Rodgers as the Top Producer in the World, and he continues to prove this to be true. However, his legendary skills are only part of what makes Rodgers so successful. A large part of his impact is due to his personal strength and ability to adapt.
In April 1996, Bernard Edwards passed away after getting pneumonia. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of many health challenges. In 2003, Tony Thompson passed away from kidney cancer. Years later, in 2009, Nile Rodgers received a prostate cancer diagnosis. Still, Rodgers remained motivated and released his inspiring 2011 autobiography, Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny.
Luck Was Right Around the Corner
After a couple of years, in 2013, Rodgers became cancer free. In fact, this year would mark an incredible comeback for Rodgers, and the band now known as Nile Rodgers & Chic. Rodgers & Chic headlined the UK’s massive Glastonbury Festival, alongside The Rolling Stones and The Arctic Monkeys. Additionally, Rodgers co-wrote and performed on three different songs for Daft Punk’s Grammy Award-winning album Random Access Memories, including mega-hit Grammy Record of The Year, “Get Lucky,” featuring Pharrell.
Further, Nile Rodgers & Chic headlined Prince’s Essence Festival in 2014. To celebrate the immeasurable impact Rodgers has made on music history, Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge, Janelle Monae, and Prince joined him on stage to perform Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and “He’s The Greatest Dancer,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” respectively.
Rodgers & Chic released one more album of new material, now under Warner Brothers Records, titled It’s About Time (2018). This album featured modern legends like Lady Gaga and prolific, long-standing legends like Elton John.
Better Days Are Still Ahead
Most recently, the Recording Academy honored Rodgers with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2023. He also received a Grammy for his work on Beyoncé’s CUFF IT, which won best R&B song at the ceremony. This was his fourth Grammy Award.
Still full of surprises and versatility, Rodgers is currently producing a new album for Tony Award winner, Idina Menzel. This would be her fourth original album, and is a return to her neo-soul and rock roots.
All in all, Nile Rodgers and Chic represent the best aspects of the music industry. Their collaborative nature and supreme talent, combined with their willingness to adapt and persevere, will continue to serve their legacy for generations to come. Rodgers and Chic have truly earned their place in music history.