Nile Rodgers will finally, sort of, get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Despite a genre-spanning 40-year career, he won’t be inducted in April as a performer alongside the Class of 2017 with Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Yes, and Journey. Instead he’ll receive the “Award for Musical Excellence,” while Chic, the band Rodgers cofounded in the 1970s, is denied a place in the hall for a record 11th time.
This Musical Excellence award isn’t given annually, nor do hall voters decide it. It’s a consolation prize. It’s an attempt by rock hall officials to rectify what has become an embarrassing omission in keeping Rodgers, one of the most influential figures in pop music history, on the outside. (It’s also one of the more egregious slights in a long list of curious choices and omissions that’s made criticism of the hall an annual rite for music fans.) In trying to make this right for Rodgers, who has produced albums for such rock hall luminaries as David Bowie, Madonna, and Eric Clapton, they’ve also managed to insult his musical legacy by recognizing him, but not the band where he first made his name as a musician, songwriter, and producer.
Of the award, Rodgers told Rolling Stone, “I am flattered and I think it’s cool. But you understand: I feel like somebody put me in the lifeboat and told my family they can’t get in.” That family, the classic Chic line-up, is cofounder/bassist Bernard Edwards, singers Luci Martin and Alfa Anderson, and drummer Tony Thompson.
Antidisco bias has kept Chic out of the hall, though they scored a string of gold and platinum albums and singles including “Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance,” and “Good Times.” That latter song was famously sampled for Sugarhill Gang’s seminal “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap song to crack Billboard’s Top 40.
Rodgers deserves full recognition, but he’ll have to make do, for now, with an award the hall says “honors performers, songwriters, and producers who have changed the course of music history.” Ringo Starr, already an inductee with the Beatles, is the last person to receive the award, and that’s likely because he was the only member of the Fab Four not inducted as a solo artist. Certainly, Starr’s “The No-No Song” and his cover of the creepy 1960s hit “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine)” weren’t going to get him in.
This is the hall’s version of an honorary Academy Award; it might look the same, but the recipient is pointedly not designated a winner. This gets Rodgers in the hall, but it’s as if he’s been permitted entry through the side door.
In his official rock hall bio, Rodgers is called a “sonic innovator” and hailed “as one of those rare musical talents that can do almost anything.” Anything, that is, except get properly voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.