Nile Rodgers is best known today as the founder of the 70’s group Chic and a Grammy Award-winning guitarist/producer who has worked with everyone from Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Madonna and countless other stars. What some may not know is that as a teenager, Rodgers was part of the The Black Panther Party For Self-Defense and was aligned with some of the group’s most infamous names.
Rodgers led an interesting life before his international acclaim as a super-producer. He played in both the Sesame Street and Apollo Theater bands. After a drug-induced jam session with guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, Rodgers joined the Black Panther’s Harlem branch in hopes of emulating Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and other similar activists of the time.
Joining Rodgers in the group as a “Panther Baby” was fellow teen Jamal Joseph, who was part of the infamous “Panther 21” group accused and later acquitted of widespread bombings and attacks in New York City.
Rodgers’ time in the Panthers inspired the Chic song “At Last I Am Free” after police attacked him and his associates in Central Park one night, barely escaping prison or death. Although the song doesn’t explicitly reference the incident, in a 2011 interview with The Guardian, Rodgers explained the inspiration behind the track.
Rodgers and Joseph, now a filmmaker and Columbia University professor, have regularly appeared together in speaking engagements and special events related to the Panthers. Rodgers also counts Kathleen Cleaver, once the Minister of Communication and the highest ranking woman in the Black Panther Party, and Afeni Shakur, one of the Panther 21 and rapper Tupac Shakur’s mother, as close friends.
Photo: Joe Mabel
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