Grammy Award-winning Nile Rodgers can add to his considerable list of talents the ability to transform the usually subdued Westport Library into a nightclub Thursday, complete with disco mirror ball, loud music, wild dancing and a sing-along to his famous music, which helped to define the late 1970s and '80s -- including his 1978 disco anthem "Le Freak" -- right up to the present with this year's international hit, "Get Lucky," with Daft Punk another Grammy winner.
Rodgers, a Westport resident for the last 35 years, was the honoree for the library's 16th annual "BOOKED for the Evening" honors event and fundraiser. The Renaissance man was honored not only for his lengthy list of musical accomplishments, which includes three recent Grammy Awards, numerous chart-topping hits, Atlantic Records' only triple-platinum selling single "Le Freak," and the sale of more than 100 million copies of his recordings, but also for his humanitarian and philanthropic projects.
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Rodgers founded the We Are Family Foundation, named for a song he co-wrote with Bernard Edwards for Sister Sledge, with the goal of promoting respect, understanding and world peace. "We have a year-long mentoring program; we have built about 20 schools in Africa, Nepal and Nicaragua; we've distributed over 70,000 music videos (to promote tolerance and diversity) to elementary school kids free, and we developed TEDxTeen (a technology, education and design initiative)," Rodgers said.
"He makes the world happy," said Nancy Hunt, president of the We Are Family Foundation and Rodgers' wife.
His music definitely made the library audience happy. Although Rodgers' did not perform Thursday -- he told the audience he had the night off -- throughout the program a band performed some of the hits that Rodgers either wrote or produced like Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," "Good Times" from his groundbreaking funk band Chic, and Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Most people could not sit still in their seats and when the formal program concluded chairs were cleared from the floor to make way for dancing.
"Think of how boring dancing at weddings and bar mitzvahs would be if we didn't have Nile Rodgers," Maxine Bleiweis, the library director, told the crowd.
Michael Ross, managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse, served as master of ceremonies, providing a timeline of Rodgers' musical contributions. He began his career at age 19 as a session guitarist touring with the Sesame Street band and went on to become a renowned composer, producer, arranger and author of the bestselling memoir, "Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny," which was published in 2011. He is also the subject of the 2013 BBC documentary "The Hitmaker."
He has collaborated with megastars David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and, most recently, with Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams, which garnered the musicians a trio of Grammys last January for the album "Random Access Memories" -- Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Rodgers' performance of "Get Lucky" with Daft Punk, Williams and special guest Stevie Wonder on the Grammy television broadcast has been viewed more than 2.6 million times on YouTube.Read Full Article
"He has such a huge body of work. It's managed to penetrate the whole gambit of music; culturally as well. His influence is so wide-spread," said Keith Robinson, a guitarist in the band that performed for the BOOKED gala. The band included New York musicians and two female vocalists, one of whom -- Carleigh Jade, 24, of Westport -- identified Rodgers as her mentor.
"I met Nile when I was 15 ... I play rock music but the music that Nile has created is universal, feel-good, happy music that makes you want to sing along," said Jade.
Rodgers called Westport "an artistic, cool town" that welcomed him when he first arrived. "I was making Madonna's record at the time. Kids would come and stare in the window and all the girls would dress up like Madonna and tie their hair in bows," Rodgers said.
His became known as the party house and eventually, "My life got pretty out of control ... At some point I decided I really can't live like this because I love playing music more than I love partying ... I decided to change my life and I got sober. It'll be 20 years on Madonna's next birthday (Aug. 16). After I left Silver Hill (in New Canaan) I honestly never had a drink or a drug ever again," he said.
The BOOKED for the Evening Award from the library honors an individual whose work has nurtured a love of learning and enhanced our understanding of the world. The event is the Westport Library's signature fundraising event, with proceeds benefiting the library programs and services.
Rodgers also promised to help support the library's expansion plans. "Let's build this new library, and I'm in," he said.