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Members included Alfa Anderson (joined group, 1978), vocals; Bernard Edwards (born on October 31, 1952, in Greenville, NC; died on April 18, 1996, in Tokyo, Japan), bass; Luci Martin, vocals; NileRodgers (born on September 19, 1952, in New York, NY), guitar; Tony Thompson, drums; Norma Jean Wright (left group, 1978), vocals. Addresses: Record company--Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025-4900.
Chic, the New York-based group that rose to the fore of the late 1970s dance scene, created a trademark sound driven by Nile Rodgers's funky guitar riffs and Bernard Edwards's throbbing bass lines. With stripped-down production, they stuck to the funk essentials of bass, rhythm guitar, drums, and vocals that were always deep in the mix. They scored a hit with their first single, "Dance, Dance, Dance," followed by "Le Freak." "Good Times," their last single to rise to the top of the charts, provided the rhythm track for the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," ground zero of the hip-hop sound. As Rickey Vincent wrote in his book Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One, "Chic captured with high-class panache the sleek sounds of the disco jet set by polishing the soulful spirit and jazzy chord progressions heard in the harder funk. Smart, tightly locked riffs, accessible simple vocals, and a groove just fonkey enough to breathe through the disco beat marked the formula."
Rodgers, who was born on September 19, 1952, in New York City, was classically trained and studied jazz guitar at the Manhattan School of Music. He performed with the jazz and rock quintet, New World Rising, in the 1960s, then joined the Apollo Theatre house band. Edwards, who was born in Greenville, North Carolina, in 1952, was introduced to Rodgers in 1970. Although he lacked Rodgers's formal training, Edwards was already an experienced musician, and the two found that they complemented one another. They began the Big Apple Band in 1971, with Tony Thompson on drums, and backed up the vocal group New York City, playing on their hit single "I'm Doing Fine Now." The band continued to experiment on its own, with Rodgers, the former arranging student, taking jazz standards like "Porgy and Bess" and doing disco arrangements. Rodgers is quoted by Barry Alfonso in the liner notes to The Very Best of Chic as saying, "[T]hat's how we got involved with the concept of dance music."
At the end of 1976, another band called Big Apple Band scored a hit with "A Fifth of Beethoven," which spurred Rodgers and Edwards to find a new name. Still working with Thompson, their musical ideas began to cohere in what would be their trademark sound. With the addition of Norma Jean Wright and Luci Martin as vocalists, they settled on a name: Chic.
The group realized, after early experimentation, that it was possible to "do sophisticated music in a way that speaks to the average person," as Rodgers told Alfonso. "That's when the whole concept of disco became so exciting to us. I thought, Wow, I can use my jazz chops and my harmonic knowledge and still write a good pop melody over it."
In early 1977 the group laid down tracks for a demo. All the major labels in New York turned them down before they were picked up by Atlantic in September. Chic, the band's debut album, was recorded in three weeks, and a single "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" was quickly released. It rose to number six on both the pop and R&B Billboard charts in early 1978 and soon sold more than a million copies. As Alfonso points out, "['Dance, Dance, Dance'] was a template for further Chic hits to follow, riding on an unstoppable groove and carrying with it just a hint of irony in its lyrics." In addition to "Dance, Dance, Dance," the album included "Everybody Dance," a song that, when released as a single, rose to number 12 on the R&B charts. Wright left the band at the end of the year and was replaced by Luci Martin, a singer and dancer who had previously toured in productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.
In 1978 Chic released their sophomore effort, C'est Chic. The album included the song "Le Freak," which was to become their biggest hit. Written about a sexually suggestive dance originating in the fabled club Studio 54 and boasting simple, self-reflexive lyrics sung over a funky rhythm track, it was at the top of the American charts for five weeks following its October release. "Le Freak" became an international phenomenon, going gold in a number of different countries and marking what is probably the high point of the disco era. C'est Chic included "I Want Your Love," which charted at number five in pop and number seven in R&B. In addition to Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin, the album included guest vocals by Luther Vandross.
Chic's watershed year was 1979. At the height of their powers and popularity, Rodgers and Edwards wrote and produced songs for Sister Sledge: "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family." Both songs would reach the top ten. That same year Chic released their third album, Risqué. The first single, "Good Times," became a smash hit. It occupied the number-two slot, behind Donna Summer's "Bad Girls," for several weeks before reaching the top in August. "Good Times" is credited by Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews as being "probably the best late disco song of them all, with that hypnotic, endlessly repeating bass line, trademark guitar and strings in the background, and sing-along vocals." Of all the hits spawned by Rodgers and Edwards, "Good Times" would prove to be the most influential, providing the backing track for the Sugarhill Gang's seminal hip-hop single, "Rapper's Delight," and inspiring Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." "My Forbidden Lover," the follow-up single, failed to reach the heights of its predecessor, stalling at number 43. The backlash to disco's popularity had begun with punk, New Wave, and resurgent rock jockeying for position.
By 1980 the social climate had changed significantly and Chic's fourth album, Real People, was released to lukewarm response. It was their first album to not reach gold status. The album produced two singles, the title track and "Rebels Are We," which reached number eight on the R&B chart but failed to crack Billboard's pop top 40. The album includes nods to the shifting musical landscape, with keyboards assuming a more prominent place in lieu of the strings. Rodgers's minimalist funk-inflected guitar-playing expanded from keeping rhythm to playing leads.
In 1981 Chic released Take It Off, described by Alfonso as "[veering] toward a complex funk and rock amalgam." The 1982 album Tongue in Chic was released to little fanfare and no radio hits. Believer, released the following year, also failed to chart and marked the end of Chic's relationship with Atlantic.
While the fortunes of the band waned, Rodgers and Edwards remained busy producing outside projects, both together and separately. In 1980 they produced Diana Ross's album Diana, featuring "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out." The following year they collaborated on Debbie Harry's album Koo Koo. Edwards produced an array of diverse artists, including Rod Stewart, Robert Palmer, and the Power Station, featuring Tony Thompson on drums. He also released a solo album, Glad to Be Here. Independent of Edwards, Rodgers would go on to produce David Bowie's 1983 album Let's Dance, as well as Madonna's breakthrough album Like a Virgin. His solo album, Adventures in the Land of Groove, was released in 1983 but garnered little attention.
The members of Chic went their separate ways, with both Rodgers and Edwards concentrating on producing chores. In 1992 the two co-founders reunited to record Chic-ism on the Warner Bros. label. While the album showed both Rodgers and Edwards in good form, it failed to do as well as had been hoped. Rodgers and Edwards continued to perform as Chic through the mid-1990s, until Bernard Edwards's 1996 death from pneumonia while he was touring Japan with the Power Station.
by Kevin O'Sullivan
Group formed by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, 1976; first demos recorded under name Chic, 1977; signed to Atlantic, released first album, Chic, and million-selling single "Dance, Dance, Dance," 1977; released second album, C'est Chic, including hit single "Le Freak," 1978; released third album, Risque, including hit single "Good Times," 1979; released Real People, 1980; released final Atlantic recording, Tongue in Chic, 1982; released Believer, 1983; Rodgers and Edwards concentrated on solo work, produced outside projects, 1980s; reunited for Chic-ism, on Warner Bros. label, 1992.
- Selected discography
- Chic Atlantic, 1977.
- C'est Chic Atlantic, 1978.
- Risqué Atlantic, 1979.
- Real People Atlantic, 1980.
- Take It Off Atlantic, 1981.
- Tongue in Chic Atlantic, 1982.
- Believer Atlantic, 1983.
- Chic-ism Warner Bros., 1992.
- The Very Best of Chic Rhino, 2000.
November 12, 2003: Band member Tony Thompson died on November 12, 2003, at his home in Los Angeles, California, of renal cell cancer. He was 48. Source: Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2003, p. B12.
- Vincent, Rickey, Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One, St. Martin's Griffin Edition, 1996.
- "Chic," Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews, http://www.warr.org/chic.html (July 8, 2002).
- "Dance Superstars--Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers," And We Danced, http://www.andwedanced.com/1980/bn880.htm (July 8, 2002).
- "'Le Freak': Chic," Super Seventies RockSite!,http://www.superseventies.com/1979_2singles.html (July 8, 2002).
- Additional information was obtained from the liner notes by Barry Alfonso in Very Best of Chic, Rhino Records.
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