I caught the live video feed from Advertising Week at B.B. King’s in NYC as Nile Rodgers presented on the panel called the “High Notes of Creativity” with Draftfcb & Billboard. The discussion centered on what lessons the ad industry learn from music when it comes to connecting with consumers in a country that continues to experience profound demographic and psychographic shifts.
Rodgers is known for writing some of the most influential songs of our time including, “Le Freak,” “Good Times” (the riff of which became the foundation for “Rappers Delight”) and the Diana Ross sensation “I’m Coming Out.” In the industry, he is known as more than just a songwriter, but also producer, musician and one of the greatest brand architects in history, having worked with such heavy hitters as Madonna, Bowie, and Mick Jagger.
Rodgers took us back to the inception of his relationship with Diana Ross:
“My band created ‘Freak Out’ (”Le Freak’). It was the summer of ‘79 and we were in the thick of the phenomena of ‘Disco Sucks,’ and Diana Ross came to see us performing that summer and we did our show. We created a really magical relationship with Diana Ross, and we decided to do our next record with her. This was my first meeting with a superstar.
“At 20-something-years-old, when I sat down with Diana, I realized that I was richer than she was. How could that be? I had written ‘We Are Family’ and I was very successful. I thought of her as this brand-new, cutting-edge black woman.
“To me, wow, she doesn’t realize who she was and the power she had. After interviewing her, the album we did was called ‘Diana.’ The one thing we knew about Diana Ross was that she was an icon not only to the black community and not only to the female community, but the gay community who was so supportive of Diana.”
“I was in a restaurant in the bathroom and on either side, there were about three transvestite Diana impersonators at the urinals. This was one of the most unbelievable things I had ever experienced. We were working to identify with the new gay movement and we just needed a song to connect her with them.
“In the black community, we use to have a phrase called the Coming Out Song. So anyways we knew it was a catchphrase for the gay community and we knew we were on the verge of a hit.
“After we approached Diana with the song, she was concerned that people were going to think that she was gay. I’ve never lied to an artist anytime except this time. I looked Diana in the face and said, ‘Are you kidding me? Who’s going to think that? No, this is your ‘coming out’ song,.” Ross at the time was recording her last album for Motown and “coming out” from under the shadow of its owner, Berry Gordy.
The song went on to become a worldwide hit in 1980.