*Famed music producer Nile Rodgers and his late production partner Bernard Edwards first teamed with Diana Ross 40 years ago on her “Diana” album, which dropped May 22, 1980. It went on to become the best-selling LP of her career.
The album featured the hits “Upside Down” and the gay anthem “I’m Coming Out,” which was inspired by the Diana Ross drag impersonators at GG’s Barnum Room in midtown Manhattan.
“All of a sudden a lightbulb goes off in my head,” Rodgers previously shared with the New York Post. “I had to go outside and call Bernard from a telephone booth. I said, ‘Bernard, please write down the words: ‘I’m coming out.’ And then I explained the situation to him.”
While Ross immediately connected with the empowering lyrics of the song, she had no idea “I am coming out” was a gay thing.
“She didn’t even get that,” he said.
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As Pride Month comes to a close, Yahoo Entertainment caught up with the songwriter and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee to discuss the lasting legacy of “I’m Coming Out.”
Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Yahoo Entertainment: “I’m Coming Out” is one of the most enduring gay anthems of all time. Was it written with that intention?
Nile Rodgers: This is actually a wonderful story. So, right near Studio 54, there was a string of clubs … and there were two clubs in that area that were very, very, very popular trans clubs. One was called the Gilded Grape. Typically, I would go club-hopping around there, and the Gilded Grape on Eighth Avenue was totally hot. One night there I went into the bathroom, and on either side of me, there were at least — I always try and make it sound plausible, because people don’t believe how many Diana Ross impersonators were hidden there that night, so let’s just make it sound believable and say there were only maybe three or four deep on either side. Let’s say, like, six to eight. So there I was, in the bathroom, surrounded by Diana Ross impersonators. And I was the middle of producing my first superstar in my life and it happened to be Diana Ross. Imagine you’re in a Fellini movie — that’s what this was like.
I looked around me and I was so excited. I wanted to yell to these people, “Hey, you won’t believe it, but I’m producing Diana Ross!” But nobody would have believed me. So I couldn’t even get excited. But what I did get was motivated. I had an idea. A light bulb went off, and I thought, “Wait a minute. If I write a song for Diana Ross and talk about a disenfranchised part of her fan base and sort of make it for them, this would be an important record.” This was something I hadn’t thought about before, and here it was, right in front of my face.
And so I ran outside and I called Bernard. He was dead asleep. I tried to explain the situation to him. I told him it would be like when James Brown wrote, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” No one had particularly thought of James Brown as a leader in the Black Power movement, but when he wrote that song, that was one of the most powerfully political things that could have ever happened. So I said, “No one thinks of Diana Ross necessarily on the frontlines of this, but [the gay] community and her [gay] fans love her and idolize her. Let’s write this song for them!” And Bernard got it. It totally made sense to him.
What was Diana’s reaction when you presented her with the song?
Diana loved it. We never delved into the meaning or why we wrote it — until she played it for Frankie Crocker, who had now become the No. 1 radio personality in the world. She left our studio floating on air, she just loved her album, but when she played it for Frankie, it was not a good experience. He told her it would ruin her career. And she came back to our studio crestfallen and heartbroken. Of course, what’s really cool about Diana is that even when she’s pissed off, she’s still elegant. But she comes back and she says, “Why are you guys trying to ruin my career?” And this was out of the clear blue sky — an hour or two before, she had been the happiest woman in the world! But we could see she was brokenhearted. And we said, “Diana, come on now. If we really ruin your career, we’re ruining our career! You’re already Diana Ross. We’re just starting out. Why would we want to go down in history as the guys who ruined Diana Ross’s career? Do you think anyone’s ever going to work with us again?”
Why did Frankie think “I’m Coming Out” would mean career suicide for Diana?
The thing is that we had conducted all these interview sessions with her [before making the Diana album]. … Diana Ross had dictated to us her whole life. For instance, she had talked about “Upside Down” and how she wanted to turn the world upside down, turn her career upside down; those were her exact words. She had already known that we were writing every song about her life. So she may have misconstrued the idea when Frankie Crocker told her what “I’m coming out” meant — that she thought we were trying to imply that she was gay. Nothing of the sort. Diana is definitely not homophobic, that’s for sure. She is one of the coolest people you could ever meet. It was just that she now thought that we were saying that she was coming out.
She didn’t know what the term “coming out” meant?
She didn’t understand that this song was about the gay community. You’ve got to remember, doing this album to us was like doing a documentary. We got invited to her apartment and we did those interviews there, and we didn’t write a note of music until after we finished those interviews with Diana, not one note. She thought it was the coolest thing because it was the first time in her entire career that somebody had sat down, interviewed her, and wrote an album about her life. But we were writing the songs about her world through our eyes. So I never told her about [the Gilded Grape experience], because I didn’t have to. But what I did was, unfortunately I had to lie to her because she was so upset due to [Crocker’s remarks].
What did you tell her?
I said, “Diana, there’s a lot of things that Bernard and I say that you have to ask us what we mean, because we’re speaking in slang. We’re an R&B band. Whenever we’re about to start a show, we say, ‘Hey man, what’s our coming-out song tonight?’ Diana, don’t you say to your band, ‘Hey guys, what song are we going to come out with tonight?’ And she says, ‘No, I’ve never heard that before.’ I say, ‘Well, we do it all the time!’ And that’s the only time in my life — and this is a promise — that I have ever lied to an artist. But later, I said to her, “Diana, when you start your show, you will never ever come out with another song ever again, even though you’ve had so many hits. This is going to be the song that you come out to every night.” Well, have you ever seen a Diana Ross show in the last 35, 40 years? That’s what she does! Her concerts always start with “I’m Coming Out.”
Read more here.
Alfonso Ribiero Explains Why He Missed ‘Fresh Prince’ Reunion with Janet Hubert
*Alfonso Ribeiro has opened up about why he wasn’t on set with original Aunt Viv, Janet Hubert, during the recent “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” reunion.
The HBO Max special aired on Thursday, Nov 19 in celebration of the beloved comedy’s 30-year anniversary.
We previously reported… Hubert and Will Smith reunited for the first time in 27 years for the reunion taping.
“After 27 years, being here today and having the conversation that Will and I had together, it’s healing,” Hubert said during her conversation with Smith, Today.com reports.
Hubert originally played Aunt Viv for three seasons before she was replaced by Maxwell Reid. The actress previously criticized both the series and Smith, blaming him for her allegedly being blacklisted in Hollywood. Reports of a feud between the two stars have since circulated over the 27 years since.
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“We never really together publicly talk about Janet, and what happened, and for me it felt like I couldn’t celebrate 30 years of ‘Fresh Prince’ without finding a way to celebrate Janet,” Smith tells co-stars Reid, Karyn Parsons (Hilary), Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton), Tatyana Ali (Ashley), DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jazz) and Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey) in the reunion taping.
Ribeiro, who played Carlton on the show, didn’t stick around for the emotional moment between Smith and Hubert. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, het claims he couldn’t be on set that day due to filming commitments with “America’s Funniest Home Videos”.
“Unfortunately I had to go shoot that day. All of the social media content and the photographs were taken without me,” he said. “I literally did my own photo shoot on the couch so they could put me in the group photo. The actual special was filmed in one day, but all the other stuff was done on the other days.”
Meanwhile, Hubert also addressed speculation about why Ribeiro didn’t show up, telling fans to “let it go.”
Gabrielle Union Teams with Jemele Hill to Produce Comedy ‘New Money’ at Showtime
*Gabrielle Union is executive producing a comedy series for Showtime called “New Money,” TheWrap reports.
The project is in collaboration with Unions I’ll Have Another production company, Lodge Freeway Media’s Jemele Hill and Kelley Carter, who will also executive produce the potential series. “New Money” centers on “Black women who have solidified their careers, achieved financial independence and moved past the awkwardness and money struggles of their twenties,” per the synopsis, via TheWrap.
Now in their 30s, the women “must deal with the repercussions their ‘new money’ brings – including hangers-on, false friends, unwanted media attention, and greedy relatives – while also navigating the treacherous world of dating.”
Patrik-Ian Polk (“P-Valley,” “Being Mary Jane”) will write the script, alongside Union, Hill, Carter and Holly Shakoor Fleischer will co-executive produce.
In related news, on the Nov. 23 episode of Daily Pop, Union dished about the holiday traditions she and husband Dwyane Wade look forward to every year.
“The only thing that has been consistent about how me and my husband have celebrated is our lack of consistency,” Union joked. “Because both of our lives are so transient.”
She added, “My husband was never in one place. He always played on Christmas. A lot of times he played on Thanksgiving,” explained the L.A.’s Finest actress. “So celebrating in different cities—it might be in a hotel room in Philly having a turkey sandwich— as long as we’ve been together, that’s only our real tradition.”
Union and Wade are parents to a baby girl named Kaavia James, and Gabby is also a stepmother to Wade’s other children Zaire, 18, Zaya, 13, Xavier, 6 and his nephew Dahveon, 19.
“We’re gonna keep some of the things we’ve always done, like a candied ham,” she shared. “Since I was a kid, there has been a candied ham. Even when there wasn’t a turkey, there was a ham.”
Anthony Mackie: Actor to Star In and Produce Action Film ‘The Ogun’ at Netflix
*Anthony Mackie has been tapped to star in and produce an action film for Netflix called “The Ogun,” in which he plays a desperate father searching for his kidnapped daughter in Nigeria.
Here’s what TheWrap reports: Mackie plays Xavier Rhodes (not the NFL defensive star), a man who brings his teenage daughter to Nigeria to find a cure for the rare genetic condition that he passed on to her. But when his daughter is kidnapped, Rhodes goes on a rampage through the criminal underworld to find her before it’s too late, testing his powers to the limit.
Mackie will produce the project with Jason Michael Berman for Mandalay Pictures.
The actor will next be seen in the Marvel series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Outside the Wire.”
Over the summer, the “Avengers’ star chopped it up with actor Daveed Diggs about the lack of diversity on the set of Marvel movies.
In an episode of Variety‘s Actors on Actors series, the two spoke about the responsibility that influencers have to push for greater representation behind the scenes, Complex reports.
“We definitely have the power and the ability to ask those questions,” Macki said. “It really bothered me that I’ve done seven Marvel movies now [where] every producer, every director, every stunt person, every costume designer, every PA, every single person has been white,” he explained.
“We’ve had one Black producer, his name was Nate Moore. He produced Black Panther. But then when you do Black Panther you have a Black director, Black producer, you have a Black costume designer, you have a Black stunt choreographer. And I’m like, that’s more racist than anything else. Because if you only can hire the Black people for the Black movie, are you saying they’re not good enough when you have a mostly white cast?”
Mackie has appeared in several Marvel films, including Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame.
As for how he would like to see Marvel change its practices, Mackie said, “My big push with Marvel is hire the best person for the job. Even if it means we’re going to get the best two women, we’re going to get the best two men. Fine. I’m cool with those numbers for the next 10 years. Because it starts to build a new generation of people who can put something on their résumé to get them other jobs. If we’ve got to divvy out as a percentage, divvy it out. And that’s something as leading men that we can go in and push for.
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