Nile Rodgers, the iconic composer, producer and creative force behind the sound of hits by David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madonna, Chic, and dozens more announced the 2017 chosen members for the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Feb. 22. Motown founder, Berry Gordy, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Max Martin, and the threesome behind 30 years of hits from the band Chicago (Robert Lamm, James Pankow and Peter Cetera) will join this year’s esteemed class.
Nile Rodgers knows what sets this honor apart. “It's the only time you’ll ever be there with Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lieber and Stoller,” not to mention heroes in one’s own era. “I almost cried,” reflected Rodgers on his own induction ceremony last year.
“You go in knowing you're going to be anonymous and poor,” asserts the producer who mixed synthesized electronics with pure funk to forge his own sound. He remembers singing “We Are Family” to a young friend, who said “I know that song-- my teacher wrote it!” He understands that “kids grow up thinking whoever sings a song to them wrote it.” It's easy to forget that Nile Rodgers started sharing his musical gifts on “Sesame Street.”
Other names among the uber-accomplished group may be more familiar to people. “Babyface” Edmonds penned the Boyz II Men romantic favorite, “I'll Make Love to You” while Edmonds birthed Toni Braxton’s career with the sultry and tender “Breathe Again” in 1993. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis came on the scene in Minneapolis as members of The Time, but the songwriting duo’s time came creating hits for Janet Jackson (they were the force behind her “Rhythm Nation” era). Berry Gordy was not just the generator of Motown success. His signing of the Jackson Five, with the dynamo of 11-year-old Michael singing Smokey Robinson like he had done it for 30 years, sparked Gordy's songwriting on songs like “ABC” and others. The combined gifts of words to melody with a memorable touch of horns brought 33 Top 40 hits for Lamm, Pankow and Cetera over three decades.
Perhaps most notable for this year's inductees is the first rapper to gain songwriting recognition with Jay-Z’s entrance. It is Mr. Carter's mastery of words woven with emotion through rhyme that makes him the perfect emissary for his genre, and the one to whom many future rappers will continue to bow. His standing record of most Number One albums for any solo artist, 13 in all, started when there was no category for his art, thus considering them pop.
The 2017 Songwriters Hall of Fame continues to evolve as music itself does. To be a part of this evolution, take a look at the video above.