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Phone interview recorded November 5, 2011

In part two of our conversation with Nile Rodgers, he shares the experience of working with Diana Ross on the biggest selling album of her career, and on how white artists like David Bowie and Duran Duran gave him "legitimacy" in the eyes of the racially divided music industry. Rodgers also reveals to Darnell Meyers-Johnson his mixed feelings of fear and optimism about his struggle with prostate cancer...

Darnell Meyers-Johnson: Now I want to talk about the approach to the Sister Sledge project, and then, the approach that happened later with the Diana Ross DIANA album in 1980. It seemed to be a different approach, and what I mean by that is that at least in Diana’s case, it seemed as if you were there to tell her story. In other words, it seemed like there was more time invested in finding out who she was, what she wanted to say; whereas with Sister Sledge it didn’t seem to be that kind of thing. It’s like we have an idea, but it’s not necessarily Sister Sledge’s story.

Nile Rodgers: That’s right, you got it right on the money. Yeah, you’ve read the book, that’s for sure. In Sister Sledge’s case, we told their story—we told them what their story was. In Diana Ross’s case, we interviewed her quite extensively, and from that interview, we put together what Diana’s actual real story would be, from our point of view, by the way. It wasn’t her point of view, but they were her words and ideas, if you will. And that’s because we didn’t want to repeat the same problems that we had with Sister Sledge … because we loved Sister Sledge but that was the only way we knew how to work, was our way: “You do our songs our way because we’ve written those songs for you. They’re actually your songs, but we did them, so this is how they go.”

With Diana, we wanted to make the songs hers. We wanted her to love them and we wanted her to embrace them, but we wanted her to understand that we were making her next record, not her last record. So this was the Diana Ross of the future. After we interviewed her, all of those concepts, all of those sort of future concepts—which actually wound up becoming the Diana Ross that we now know and love—were her thoughts. That’s what she said to us. But when we wrote things like “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down,” we had known about the whole affair with Berry Gordy and all that kind of stuff; we knew about it, but it wasn’t public knowledge then, so we talked about it in a very sly, clever way by going “upside down you’re turning me.” We knew that; we interviewed her extensively. And the big problem we had with Diana was with the song “I’m Coming Out,” because I got that original idea because I went to a gay club—I call it a transvestite club, but it probably wasn’t, but it was frequented by a lot of transvestites, because it was one of those clubs in New York around the time where everybody went to everybody else’s club.

So I just happened to be in the bathroom and I noticed that there were a bunch of Diana Ross impersonators in the bathroom with me at the exact same time, and the moment was so peculiar and so bizarre that I got the idea to write “I’m Coming Out.” I thought, “Man, the gay community looks at Diana Ross as a diva; a god, almost. What if she took their big rallying cry, their catchphrase, and turned it into a hook?” Because Chic songs are novelty songs—we write hooky, novelty songs, even though people don’t want to admit it. They want to try and say we’re these heavy artists doing this … I go, “Yeah, we are that, but we’re very aware of the culture and we’re trying to write songs that represent the here and now or the future whenever the record will come out.” So “I’m Coming Out,” because of my political background and blah-blah-blah, and because of Diana Ross’s obviously huge gay following, just seemed like the perfect hook.

And also, a common practice with R&B acts in those days was to have a song that we used to call our coming-out song, which means the song that you start your show with. It doesn’t mean that you’re coming out of the closet; it means you’re coming out onstage. So it was a perfect Chic lyric—it was just letter-perfect. There was nothing wrong with it because every Chic album has what we call a coming-out song. On one album, the coming-out song is called “Open Up”; on the other album it’s called “Chic Cheer”; on the first album it’s called “Strike Up the Band.” And those coming-out songs are your new album and the song you’re going to start the show with—the song you’re going to come out with. It was all so nice and neatly wrapped; we didn’t believe there would be any problem for anybody.

DMJ: But there was.

NR: Yeah. Diana Ross played the record for Frankie Crocker, who was the number-one DJ in America, and Frankie says, “Diana, this record is going to ruin your career. People are going to think that you’re gay and that you’re coming out of the closet.” And she didn’t even know what coming out of the closet meant. Then he explained it to her, and she confronted us in the studio. And it really is the only time in my life that I have ever lied to an artist. She looked me in the face and says, “Nile, is this a gay song? Are people going to think that I’m gay? Are they going to think that this is me coming out and telling the world that I’m gay?” And I looked her right in the face and said, “Diana, what are you talking about? That’s the most absurd thing I have ever heard in my life. Who would think that? You are the queen; you are a sex goddess ... blah-blah-blah … who said that to you?” “Well, Frankie Crocker.” “Oh, Frankie’s nuts. I don’t even know what he’s talking about.” So we denied it.

And then Motown decided they were not going to put the record out, and the record sat on the shelf for a long time. We initiated a lawsuit and all sorts of … it got really ugly. Finally they did a remix, which if you hear the original now—both versions are available—you can see that the remix is not far from what we did, and actually, for the most part doesn’t sound as good, but the songs are there. So they put that out, and next thing you know, the record shot right to the top of the charts.

DMJ: Well, why didn’t you just tell her the truth? Because that seemed to me probably something that she would, I’m assuming—and maybe I shouldn’t assume—I’m assuming that at this point since she’s a huge star that she’s aware, particularly during that time, that she had this gay following. Why not just say, “This is a song to address your gay fans?”

NR: Because she came to us concerned.

DMJ: Right. She didn’t want that gay connotation at all in any kind of way?

NR: I can’t read her mind. I’m just saying that she came to me concerned, and because she was concerned, I was thinking, “Wow, why is she keying off of that? Why can’t she key off the part that we’re talking about—key off it being the opening of your show?” And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Diana Ross, but that’s how she opens her show. After that record became a hit she changed her show around, and it hasn’t changed since. She opens her show with “I’m Coming Out.”

DMJ: So eventually she kind of got that, even though that was kind of a lie.

NR: She kind of got what?

DMJ: The fact that that could be used as an opening.

NR: No, no, no, you got the story wrong. No, that wasn’t a lie; I’m saying that both meanings were correct: we wrote that as her opening-up song. In other words, we figured that she … like every other artist, her new show would basically be her brand-new album. I’m not sure how old you are, but let me explain something. In the old days, when you went to see an artist do a live show, that live show was pretty much songs you didn’t know because they were all from the new record. Then you’d wait ‘til the end of the show and then they’d play all of their hits. That was a typical show in the old days. If you went to see the Jackson 5 you’d hear all-new songs, and then at the end you’d hear whatever their last three albums were—those big singles. But every artist--their new show was always the new album. That was the show. So Diana Ross was no different; Chic was no different. When you went to see Chic our new show would be our current record, and then, by the time we’d get to the end, we’d play “Le Freak” and “I Want Your Love” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Everybody Dance” When we started the show, and we were doing “Good Times,” that show would start with the instrumental “Open Up” or “Chic Cheer,” or something like that. That’s how it would work. So what we said to her was half-true; the only part that we denied was that we were thinking about the gay audience. So we were like, “No, no, no, Diana … this is your song to open the show with. This is the open-up song; that’s why you say you’re coming out. You come out with this record; it’s your coming-out song.”

And we even explained it to her so honestly—this part was honest—we said, “Look, Diana, we think of you”—and this was one hundred percent true—“we think of you as royalty. We think of you as the queen. They call Aretha the Queen of Soul, but Diana, you’re the Queen of Pop/R&B. You are that person.” So just like the President of the United States walks into the room, and they play “Hail to the Chief” [hums melody], we go, “Ladies and gentlemen!” [hums riff from “I’m Coming Out”]. It was a fanfare to Diana Ross, and it was the beginning of her show. That song, “I’m Coming Out,” was the beginning of her next show. And that’s what it’s written as. It’s written as [hums opening riff]. And if you go back, and you look at Chic shows in the old days, we would hide. We wouldn’t come out right away. We would start playing, because we had wireless guitar rigs—and in those days, not many people had them—and we’d start playing, and you’d hear the music being played, and then we’d walk out onstage. So that was our concept for Diana Ross’s show: she would sing “I’m … coming … out” from backstage, and the crowd would go crazy. And then the horns would blow [hums horn part], and then, she’d make her big, grand entrance. We had the whole thing thought out … which is now how she does it … that’s exactly what she does now.

DMJ: Years later you would work with her again on the WORKIN' OVERTIME album. Was that a more pleasant experience?

NR: Yeah, that was great. So now I’m with her, and I’m sitting on the biggest record of her life: It gave her financial independence. It gave her independence from Motown. After that album, she left Motown and signed a big deal with RCA, and then, when we did WORKIN' OVERTIME, that was Motown wooing her back and giving her an executive vice-presidency, along with a lot of money. She was thrilled.

DMJ: In your book you talk in detail about working with David Bowie on his LET'S DANCE album, and Madonna on her LIKE A VIRGIN album, and work with Duran Duran, and a host of others too numerous to mention would also follow. Which of your many accomplishments gave you the greatest personal satisfaction?

NR: I would think all of those are huge. If you notice the style that the book takes, the narrative style of the book … the records that I concentrate on are the records that my life was one way before those records and another way after. So I would say that even though all those records and all those artists really changed my life, the record that changed my life the most—even though it didn’t sell the most, it changed my life the most—was David Bowie’s LET'S DANCE. Because prior to that, the only big star that we had ever worked with was Diana Ross, so to do LET'S DANCE was huge. And David was a white rock star and blah-blah-blah, and it was uncharted territory in a way, because … it just was.

As tough as Diana was, that’s how easy David was. He was the exact opposite; everything went great. We didn’t have any record company to answer to—David paid for the record himself—he hired me himself. It had nothing to do with any execs, and we did the record in seventeen days, start to finish. It was an incredible experience, and the record was so powerful. It was the biggest-selling album of his life. Some people that only have one Bowie record, that’s the one they have.

DMJ: That’s the one they have.

NR: And after I had six flops in a row, this record made me hot, and it put me in a position to then go on and do all of those other artists that you mentioned: INXS, Duran Duran, Madonna … biggest record of my life is LIKE A VIRGIN. LET'S DANCE was in the double-digit millions, but I think Madonna maybe doubled the sales of that—I think Madonna’s probably over twenty-something million, now. So that LIKE A VIRGIN album is in that upper stratosphere of big, gigantic albums like THRILLER, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Fleetwood Mac’s RUMORS … that mega-stuff, twenty-million--that sort of thing.

DMJ: Your book also talks a bit about the racial divide within the music industry. You talk about how there doesn’t seem to be a black equivalent of an Elton John or even a David Bowie, as we were just talking about. Do you think the fact that you—in Bowie’s case, on that particular album—do you think the fact that he was white and had that audience, that it gave you more legitimacy in the eyes of other people in the industry?

NR: Well, yes, I do believe that, because you could tell by the records that I got after that. But the thing that I was hoping that Bowie’s record would give me was, prior to Bowie I was just considered a Disco producer, and I just wanted to be considered a producer. Quincy Jones is just considered a producer—you would call him for anything. That’s what I wanted to be, was the producer to be called for anything. And that’s what David helped me achieve, because by doing that, and then, going to INXS, and going to Duran Duran … I mean really, Duran Duran helped me a lot with that, because a lot of people realize--and I’m not being egotistical--I love these guys; they’re my buddies—but a lot of people realize that I rescued them, and they even say it. Their biggest record, "The Reflex," was from an album that was already finished and done—already off the charts, over. And I came in, and I reworked the thing and gave it new life, and it sold more singles than "Rio" or any of the other big records that they’ve had. And once again, it was a real issue about race, because their record company didn’t want them to put the record out, because they said it sounded too black.

Well, once I made Duran Duran sound black, they sold more records than they ever sold--If that’s what you want to call it. If I made them sound black, if that’s the definition, then sounding black was exactly what they wanted, and it was exactly what the fans wanted. No fans ever said, “Well, I’m never going to buy that Duran record because it sounds too black.” It was only the executives that said that. And if you listen to Madonna, if you go on YouTube and listen to her interviews, she says it right plain upfront: she says, “Oh, the reason why I’m working with Nile is because he’s a complete musician, and he has that R&B thing—he’s got that black sound that I really want.” She says it right there, clear as a bell. She says it over and over again, and just puts it right in the face of the industry: “He’s got that black sound that I really want.”

DMJ: You wear many hats: composer, arranger, guitarist, producer, performer—you have all of those talents. In which of those do you shine best?

NR: It’s hard for me to look at myself and be honest about it, but I know that the one I like doing the most is just playing guitar. Because when you play guitar, it’s pretty much the same system that I was brought up in—like at the Apollo Theatre--it’s like the coliseum: it’s either thumbs-up or thumbs-down—you sink or swim, live or die right there on the spot. And when I’m playing guitar, I don’t know the song; I’m walking into a brand-new situation and I have to make people happy right there on the spot, because if I don’t, that means when I leave they’re going to get somebody else to come in and fix it. And I know that, so I’m trying to make it great. I love the pressure of responding to a problem right there on the spot, so that’s what I think I like the best. I just played with Adam Lambert.

DMJ: Right, I heard about that.

NR: Yeah, he hit me on Twitter and I just said, “Okay, book a studio.” And I ran into the studio, and just went in and started playing, and I said, “You know what, Adam? Here’s what I’m going to do, bro. I’m going to do this the same way we used to do it in the old school.” Every one of those records that I played on, there were multiple guitar players. Even bands that were known for being … like if they had a guitar player or two in the band, they would still supplement those records with studio musicians. Because after the Wall of Sound was created, so to speak, people started realizing that you needed those layers of music to make recorded music more palatable.

So I said to Adam, “I’m going to go and do your record like old-school. I’m going to play three or four parts that work together with all that music that you have on your record, just like I did on the Britney Spears record, just like I did on the Mariah Carey record.” And I played it like that. I was thrilled, had more fun than you can imagine. That’s what I did with Michael Jackson on HIStory. But Michael expects that kind of stuff, see; he grew up with that, so he knows it, whereas Adam didn’t realize: “Wow, really? That’s how you guys do it?” I said “Yeah. Three, four guitar players on some records.”

DMJ: I want to ask you two last things before we wrap up. Your book … obviously a lot of it talks about, for lack of a better term, the Rock and Roll lifestyle—sex, drugs and Rock and Roll. And you’ve been there, done that, lived it, and you talked about it in the book. You mentioned, at the start that you’ve been clean for seventeen years. Was there a particular rock bottom for you where you just made that decision to clean up?

NR: Yes, absolutely. The day that I cleaned up was pretty interesting. I was at Madonna’s birthday party; it was down at Miami Beach. And I don’t actually remember this—people told me what I did, so everything I know about that night is basically secondhand information. But the one part I do remember: I do remember going there; I do remember the girl that I had with me. I don’t remember people carrying me home. I don’t remember Madonna telling me, “Nile, there’s no one here. You’re here by yourself, everyone is gone.” I don’t remember any of that. But what happened was, a guy recorded my performance of me playing at a nightclub the night before, and he played it for me that following day.

And also, I had my first bout of what they call cocaine psychosis, where I started hearing voices, and I believed that the mafia had put a contract out on me. And I knew that I was hearing the voices, because they were clear as a bell. No one was in the room, but I could hear it. There was a constant din of voices going [whispers]: “Nile, Nile. Nile. Over here, Nile. Nile, over here.” And then I would go look out the window and there’d be nobody there. “Nile, Nile, over here. Nile, come here. Over here.” But they were clear, just like I’m speaking to you. So I realized, as the cobwebs started to clear, that I was losing my mind.

So I got on a plane, went back to New York. And while was on the plane I read a magazine article that said that Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones was going to stop using drugs, because he’s noticed that drugs are an impingement on his ability to play music. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what he said: it impairs his ability to play music, and he can live without drugs, but he can’t live without music, so he decided to give up the drugs. And I thought, “Oh, man.” I had known Keith, because I had worked on Mick Jagger’s first solo album, and Mick wanted me to produce The Rolling Stones, so we had a number of meetings with Keith, and blah-blah-blah, and I’d seen Keith, and a lot of my friends played with him, so we were cool. Also, he’s my neighbor in Connecticut; he lives right near me. So I got sober in Connecticut, and blah-blah-blah. I went into the rehab for eight months, and the day that I came out … nobody knew that I had come out, because it’s an anonymous program.

So I came out and I went to a takeout food joint, and as I walked into the place the maître d says, “Hey, Nile, I have a good friend of yours on the phone.” And I says, “How could it be a good friend of mine? Nobody knows I’m here.” I didn’t say anything about the rehab, but I said, “I’ve been away for a while, so how would anybody know?” He said, “No, I guarantee you, it’s a friend of yours.” So I get on the phone and it’s Keith Richards asking me for coke. I’m going, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Here I quit because of you, somewhat; now I get out and the first day I get out you’re asking me for coke?” And I thought it was funny. Of course I didn’t say to him I was sober, or anything like that; I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

I just said, “Oh, Keith, man, I don’t have any. But talk to this guy, maybe he can hook you up.” So I thought that was ironic. And that’s the interesting story about my book, is that it’s loaded with irony. Everything in my life seems to have this ironic thread going through it. One day I think everything’s going to be fantastic, and it’s the greatest day of my life; the next day, like the way my book ends, I have the best night of my life—it’s just incredible; I feel like a million dollars—and within a few hours I get a phone call from my doctor telling me, “Um, Nile? You have very aggressive cancer.” I said, “Well, what does that mean?” and he says, “Well, if ‘one’ is manageable, and ‘four’ is a complete catastrophe, you have a very strong ‘three.’”

So it’s like, that’s the story of my life. I have good-bad, yin-yang, sweet-sour, greatest day of my life; next day you have cancer. It’s like, give me a break.

DMJ: And I also wanted to ask you about your cancer diagnosis because I noticed that you’ve been blogging about it. How are you feeling today, and how are things going with that?

NR: It’s a battle; it’s a real battle. Cancer is no joke. I try and laugh about it; I try and stay positive. I just saw a television special just before you called me, and it was so sad. I don’t even have a year clean. I get tested every ninety days. I was treated surgically January fourth of this year, so hopefully, January fourth, or thereabouts, I’ll go in and I’ll have my first year. And I look at it sort of like the way that I got sober: I have seventeen years now, but I didn’t get to seventeen years in a day. It took seventeen years to get seventeen years. So time takes time. Right now I’m cancer-free. As my doctor jokes, “You’re cancer-free … unless it comes back.” I’m going, “What do you mean, unless it comes back?" And he said, “Unless it comes back." Because once you get cancer you are prone [to it coming back].

I have a good friend--she’s had cancer six times. I’m like, what? Because of my blog, I talk to people every day. There’s not a day that I wake up that I don’t hear some horrible story, or some wonderful story about cancer, because I talk about it openly, because I was terrified, and every now and then, I still have moments of terror, and that’s just how it is. And once it hits you … as I say, cancer is not for the weak. You’ve got to have it together to deal with this, because the treatments are worse than the disease sometimes. Many times I said to myself, “Can I have the cancer back? Because I felt fine.” That day that my doctor called me, I felt like a million dollars. I jumped on a plane, and did a concert in Rome, and felt great. But it was true, it was only a matter of days after that that I was doing a show with Earth, Wind & Fire, and lost muscle strength in my right arm. I couldn’t believe it; I was like, “What is that about?” So now they’re starting to poke around in my brain. I’m like, “Whoa, dudes.”

DMJ: I was going to ask you what type of cancer?

NR: I had a very aggressive prostate cancer. And when I say aggressive I mean it’s that off the charts, Frank Zappa stuff. You can look this up—it’s what they call … well, I don’t know what the actual slang is for it, but it’s what they call aggressive, potentially metastatic cancer. It looks really, really ugly when they find it. When they found mine, it was looking the ugliest of the ugly. It was what they say on the Gleason scale, it was a Gleason nine. And when you look that up, you’ll see right away what that is--that is not good. It’s very scary; every doctor was worried sick. And they tell you to go out and get second and third opinions, but they say, “Don’t take too long.”

DMJ: Let me ask you this, because in this moment, right now, I think we have a great opportunity to inform and encourage other people—and you’ve done that throughout your career with your music, but with this in particular… and I didn’t mean to get off on this tangent, but if you can, in regards to your cancer, you were just talking about being told that it’s an aggressive form of cancer--and having actually faced those fears yourself, how would you advise someone else to handle such a situation? Because it seems even as you’re describing it, you still seem to have an upbeat, at least, attitude about it—a positive attitude about it. How do you remain so?

NR: I just choose to look at it that way. And that’s why I don’t really want to try and give advice about this stuff, because I know that I happen to be a certain type of person, and I really look at a glass as half-full rather than half-empty. I am so optimistic, but a lot of people aren’t like that. A lot of people will wallow in the pain and the misery. I’m just not that person. And maybe it’s because I have music in my life; maybe because I’ve learned how to appreciate very, very simple things. When I was in the rehab, I used to spend time standing on this little footbridge, and just staring at goldfish. Now, this is a guy who’s sold hundreds of millions of records, and I’m standing there looking at a footbridge, at goldfish, thinking that they’re beautiful and wonderful. I’m not thinking about competing.

When Michael Jackson called me to play on HIStory, I told him no first. He had to convince me to come do it, because I had said to myself, “I’ve moved on from that life; I’ve moved on from that world. I do not belong in that world anymore. I don’t need to make records anymore. I’ve already lived that part of my life, just like I don’t sniff glue anymore. I don’t need to go back to that, as romantic and as wonderful as it was.” Not that I’m comparing playing guitar and making records with sniffing glue, but … [laughs] if you’re a drug addict, they’re almost the same.

DMJ: Depends on what your perspective is in that moment.

NR: Yeah, a good tube of glue is pretty good sometimes, when you were like me. But I just try and stay upbeat, man, because life is really, really short. If you’ve seen my blog, maybe you’ve happened upon the picture that I show--the full, early Chic organization. And it’s a picture of Luther Vandross, Raymond Jones, Bernard Edwards, Tony Thompson, and Nile Rodgers. Those are the five guys, period, in that picture, and then, there’s a bunch of women; all the girls that sang and played with us, they’re all in that one picture. Out of all those five guys, four of them are dead. So I look at my life, and I go, “Wow.” When you look at the picture, it’s like when you were a kid. You go, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Well, the thing that would make it complete is, if I’m dead—if that last guy is gone, then the picture makes sense.

So I look at that picture, and I think, “Man, I’m some kind of lucky person, because all those guys are gone.” And Bernard’s been dead fifteen years. Luther's been dead six and a half years. Raymond Jones, Mr. Organic Food, and blah-blah-blah, and this and that, super-health guy—nineteen years old when he joined Chic, died six years to the day of Luther Vandross' death--the exact same day. These things are such wild coincidences. And I’m the only guy who’s alive, and I was the worst out of all those guys. If you had said, back in the day, “Hey, man, who’s not going to make it until their fiftieth birthday?” you’d say, “Nile. He’s the guy. Nile’s going to be gone by thirty-five. He’s got ten good years of doing this and that’s it, man. So get it out of him now, because he ain’t gonna be around.”

And the fact that I’m still here, even though it’s an uphill battle, and I’m fighting a new obstacle … my whole life is ironically filled with obstacles, as is everyone else’s life --ups and downs. Life is a series of really, really bad stuff, and then, every now and then, something good happens, and you’ve got to learn to enjoy those good things, because most of your life is, “Oh God, how am I going to pay the rent? Oh man, my brother’s in jail. The cops stopped me. I bought this new car, and it’s a rip-off …” That’s what life is. Every now and then, in the middle of all that, you get, “Man, I saw this movie the other day, and it was great. I met this person and they make me really happy. I was over at my grandmother’s house, and the food was fantastic.”

DMJ: Lastly, Nile, I want to ask you: you seem to have lived a lot of different lives, as detailed in your book, and we certainly hope that you’re around for many, many more years. But as we wrap up here, I want to ask you, what do you hope is the legacy you’ll leave behind?

NR: I hope I leave a ton of great music, and I hope that my charity, the We Are Family Foundation, becomes as big as the song “We Are Family.” I hope that it gets to the point where it’s self-sustaining … that, instead of having nineteen schools built and a hundred-and-something kids that are alumni, that it’s thousands and thousands of kids and thousands of schools and gazillions of dollars, and we’ve done great things, and these kids have gone on to change the world. Because that’s what they’re doing now: the kids in my program have some of the most dynamic ideas and implementation practices, and that’s what we do--is we help them do those things better. And if that’s what I’m known for, and people say, “Oh, and by the way, that’s a song.” And they go, “Really? That was a song?” In other words, if the charity becomes the thing—and, for real, the reason why I feel like this is because, when I was a kid, there were these after-school programs and these mentorship programs that helped me.

I learned jazz at a thing called Jazzmobile that was an after-school program that was taught to kids free. We had a musical genius like Billy Taylor and Ted Dunbar teaching us jazz, free--and sophisticated jazz that you couldn’t pay enough for, and we’re getting this stuff free. I say to myself, “Boy, I’d like to be able to do that.” And I don’t want to be the egotistical guy that says, “You gotta do what I do—you gotta do music, and that’s what I’m going to teach.” That’s not what I want to do.

I had a potpourri of things that were given to me free, and I chose music, so my charity supports kids that have a varied menu of things that they’re dealing with, when it comes to helping the world achieve peace. And what we mean by peace … we don’t necessarily mean disarmament; we mean a peaceful life, a peaceful existence … food, clothing, shelter, education, those types of things. Because without those basic needs being met, peace is not even possible. So our kids are very diverse. Sure, we have kids that are musicians, kids that are filmmakers, but we have other kids that are egg farmers; we have kids that sew stockings and make mosquito nets, we have kids that do first aid. So it runs the gamut of interest, but they work together as one gigantic family, because the overall statement that our organization makes is that we are one big global family. And I don’t know if you know this, but the other day we just passed a huge milestone. Now there are seven billion people on this earth. Seven billion.

DMJ: Yeah, I did hear about that.

NR: That’s ridiculous, man--seven billion people. We’d better have a generation of kids that are really supportive and tolerant of each other, because with that kind of population … and it ain’t gonna take long to get to eight billion--that’s the problem. Once you get to numbers like that, the growth becomes exponential. From seven billion to eight billion is not going to take as long as from six billion to seven billion. And from eight to nine is going to be shorter and from nine to ten … it’s ridiculous.

DMJ: Well, let’s give some of that seven billion some quick information about where they can go to find out more about your foundation. I’m assuming there’s a website, right?

NR: Yeah. Everything in my life is easy, so just like my website is, We Are Family is It’s actually dot org, but dot com will get you there. It’s And you’ve got to remember, it’s “foundation”--

DMJ: You also mentioned that you’re on Twitter, so how can people hit you up on Twitter?

NR: Oh, Nile Rodgers. Everything about me is simple. @nilerodgers,, We Are Family Foundation. That’s it.

DMJ: And are you also on Facebook, because I’m there a lot so I wanted to ask about that also.

NR: I’m on Facebook too--same thing--Nile Rodgers--nothing to it.

DMJ: Cool. Well, I’ll tell you, it’s been a pleasure and an honor to speak with you. Any time that you want to share with us at about anything that you’re doing, our doors are open. I just want to remind anybody who’s reading or listening to this interview, that your book "Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny" is available right now at, and any place where books are sold, they can find it. It’s all over the place. I wish you the best with the book and all of your future endeavors.

NR: Thank you very much, man--really, really great of you.

DMJ: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. Be blessed.

NR: Cheers.

About the Writer
Darnell Meyers-Johnson is a New Jersey based music journalist and creator of The Meyers Music Report ( Previously, he served as Entertainment Editor for the now defunct publication Nubian News and as Editorial Coordinator for When not conducting interviews or writing liner notes, Darnell hosts a weekly radio show, Vocal About Jazz, which streams online every Saturday from 12-2pm, EST on and iTunes.
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