As a pioneer of disco, guitarist Nile Rodgers and his band Chic helped pave the way for pop and hip-hop producers and musicians like Pharrell Williams. To celebrate his contributions to the world of music, Williams helped present Rodgers with the Award for Musical Excellence at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Rodgers and Williams worked together on Daft Punk’s disco-inspired album Random Access Memories and won two Grammy Awards alongside the French duo for their hit song “Get Lucky.” On the same album, they also appeared alongside each other on the song “Lose Yourself to Dance.”
Here is what Williams offered as his tribute to Rodgers’ lengthy, ever-evolving career and legacy.
Pharrell Williams: Y’know, about five years ago I met up with the robots in Daft Punk to discuss recording a song together. They asked me what I was working on and I told them that I was “kind of in this Nile Rodgers place.” And I remember they paused and kinda looked at each other and said, “This is what we want you to write to.” And they played me the demo to the song that became “Get Lucky.” And then there was Nile and his trusted Hitmaker Stratocaster laying down the signature rhythmic riffs.
I remember listening to “Get Lucky” for the first time and it reminded me of a party on an exotic island on another planet. It was like musical MDMA; an adrenaline shot for whoever wanted to leave this Earth and travel to a different universe and dimension. It was freedom. It was exuberance. It was unity. It was a throwback to another era. But it was also right now.
It was also the first time I worked with Nile physically, but spiritually he’s been in the studio with me for more than 25 years.
Whether it was his landmark work with Chic or production for Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran and countless others, Nile Rodgers never needed to be the flashy showman trying to upstage anyone. His ethos has always been putting the artist first, placing himself in the background and happily ceding the spotlight.
But not tonight, Nile.
Nile has taught me the value of being one part of a bigger whole; the value of humanity and humility; the value of sacrificing yourself for the song.
You can hear it immediately in his chucking guitar on Chic’s first single, whose title might as well be Nile’s commandment to all of us for the past 40 years: Dance. Dance. Dance.
Tonight, we honor you for more than four decades of staying true to that mantra.
He’s used that same guitar on nearly every single track he’s worked on and I read that the total value of his music has come to about $2 billion. Two billion dollars. But I bet even greater than that is the number of people who have danced around the world to a Nile Rodgers song; who won contests at a club while “Le Freak” was playing; who hugged a family member while “We Are Family” was blasting in the background; who discovered hip-hop through a “Good Times” sample; who jumped around in their bedroom to “Like a Virgin,” or “Let’s Dance” or “Notorious”; who felt empowered and more confident after hearing “I’m Coming Out” or who had a fun night to “Get Lucky.”
Carl Sagan once said, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” And that’s exactly what Nile and his music have brought to people over the years: Love. From touring with the Sesame Street road show in the early 1970s to now, Nile has dedicated his life to making people happy and expressing love through music. I just want to say thank you for your tremendous, tremendous genius contribution that’s moved and rocked so many generations.
For more than 40 years, Nile, you’ve always been the coolest dude in the room and I’m honored to present you … we’re honored, the whole entire room is honored to present you the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Award for Musical Excellence. Sorry, it’s such a mouthful. You’ve done so much! I challenge anybody to read all of this man’s accomplishments easily. It’s just so much that you’ve done. Congratulations, man and this award goes to you.