On November 15th, 2016, executive music producer Daniel Glass and Grammy Award-winning musician and producer Nile Rodgers were conferred the insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters by Thomas Michelon, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy. The award was presented with the following speech at a ceremony taking place at the Payne Whitney Mansion in New York, home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
As Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, it is my great honor to welcome you here as we confer the insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters on two outstanding leaders of the music industry: Daniel Glass and Nile Rodgers.
This award was established by the French government in 1957 in order to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the arts, literature, and culture throughout France and the world.
Daniel Glass and Nile Rodgers, we could not be more pleased to honor you today: two living legends of the music industry! You are both widely celebrated, not only for your numerous accomplishments, but also for your dedication to the craft. Your efforts have made a profound mark on the music industry not only in the US, but also in France, and around the world.
Let me begin with Daniel Glass.
Dear Daniel Glass,
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, you once said, and I quote: “There is a certain je ne sais quoi quality about great records – they share a vibe and the sound of excellence.”
Looking at the impressive list of artists that you have worked with, it is clear that you have a knack for spotting the je ne sais quoi of great talent! As the former president of Universal Records and Artemis Records, and the current president and founder of Glassnote Records, you have been the producer of countless major artists and success stories. This list includes platinum and award-winning artists such as Erykah Badu, Billy Idol, Mumford and Sons, Jethro Tull, Morrissey, Sinead O’Conner, Paula Abdul, and the French band, Phoenix.
Indeed, you are well-known for your success with Phoenix, and they would not have had the same success worldwide without your support. In 2010, Phoenix won a Grammy Award for the Best Alternative Album, for their album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”, which includes the hit songs “Lisztomania” and “1901.” In 2013, their album “Bankrupt!” topped the Billboard charts, ranking at #1 in three categories, and #4 on the US Billboard 200 chart. With you at their side, they were able to navigate the American music scene. They became the first French artists to perform on Saturday Night Live, and they have also played on American television shows such as The David Letterman Show and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, among others. They have also played at major American music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Coachella, and every tour they do in the USA is sold-out. Thanks to you, Phoenix has become a house-hold name here.
I’ve been told that Phoenix originally contacted you. As soon as you listened to their music for the first time, you got on a plane to France. You heard their talent immediately, and you helped to pave the way for their tremendous international success.
Daniel Glass, you approach your work with the care of someone who deeply respects the craft. You understand the process of making music, and rather than trying to change an artist’s work, you let the artist create freely. You have said, “In a tie, the artist always wins.” You give them the time and space they need to write and record excellent music, and you offer your help and advice every step of the way. You make it a priority to help artists strengthen their careers and reach their full potential, rather than simply trying to cultivate one-hit-wonders. And along the way, you have developed lifelong friendships with the artists you work with. You consider them your extended family. You have traveled all over the world to attend your artists’ weddings, watch performances, and visit new additions to families. You are extremely close with the families of the members of Phoenix. You have visited the lead singer Thomas’ parents at their home in the south of France, and you have hosted the band’s family members and parents here in New York. In order to keep up with your artists, you travel all around Europe and the world, whether you’re visiting The Temper Trap in Australia, Mumford and Sons in England, or Aurora and her family in Norway.
Because you become so close with your artists, they have even been able to recommend other bands for you to work with. Chris Baio recommended Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam to you, and The Temper Trap helped you find Mumford and Sons. Glassnote Records is a major player of the music industry, and it is also a family.
It is no surprise that the bands you have worked with have thrived. In fact, in 2010, Glassnote made history when you became the first independent label to have four of your artists place in the top 10 of the Billboard Heatseekers Album Chart. Because of your success, you were also the recipient of Billboard’s “Midem Master” award, and you were listed in the “Billboard Power 100” three years in a row, from 2013 to 2015. In 2012, you were the recipient of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the International Dance Music Awards, and in 2013, you were named Musexpo International’s “Music Person of the Year”. These accomplishments are emblematic of your hard work, and your dedication to the artists that you work with. Your musical journey began when you were a student at Brooklyn College, where you were a popular DJ for WBCR Radio, and the first DJ for the New York branch of the famous French discotheque “Regine’s.” Prior to college, you took French in high school, and became a fan of French culture. Today, you try to infuse French culture and music into the running of your label. After high school and college, you went on to work for many different music labels, and later founded Glassnote. Glassnote is an international success, and the music you produce is enjoyed in countries all around the world.
Daniel Glass, you are an avid Francophile. You have a reputation for meeting with artists at iconic locations around Paris, and for visiting France at every opportunity that arises. You have also spoken on panels at the MIDEM Festival in Cannes for the past thirty years, even delivering the keynote speech for its 50th anniversary in which you discussed key trends in the industry, such as how artists can work together to build their careers. Throughout the years, you have only ever missed one Midem conference! Whether you’re working with Phoenix at their studio in Paris or traveling throughout the country, you display a love for traveling to France and taking in its culture. Dear Daniel Glass,
You are truly a musical visionary and an accomplished entrepreneur. You have a talent for understanding and foreseeing musical trends, and you have a deep understanding of the music industry. Your career has been marked by strong relationships with artists, a deep love of music, and tremendous success. Indeed, you have produced some of the greatest musicians of our time and have helped bring their music to fans around the world, including France. It is my great honor to present you with this award.
Daniel Glass, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
And now, Nile Rodgers.
Dear Nile Rodgers,
Where does one begin when describing a living legend in music? You’ve been called the “Phil Spector of the post-disco era”, the artist with the Midas touch, and one of the most talented musicians in the world. I remember Johnny Marr saying, “You hear his heart with his right hand and his soul with his left.” You truly have a great heart and a wonderful soul.
You once said: “Art is something that opens up and enhances your emotions, and that’s what I like to think I’m doing.” Indeed, your work has brought joy to millions of people around the world.
Dear Nile, it is clear that the Cultural Revolution that was happening in New York was an important part of your musical formation, and this is explicit in the superb autobiography that you published, entitled Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny. From the Bronx to Alphabet City and the West Village, you wonderfully tell the story of a youth that was both intellectual and bohemian. It was characterized by doubt and sometimes suffering, but also by joy and a thirst for knowledge and creativity. From a young age, living in New York allowed you to meet great artists such as Thelonious Monk and Lenny Bruce, who were friends of your parents.
In 2016, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of your band Chic, one of the greatest bands in the history of music. I don’t know if one needs to label the type of music you create: disco, funk, whatever we call it, from Chic to your solo career, we hear musical genius and constant innovation. Chic is an incredibly tight band, a nearly perfect living groove machine. But I would underline, reflecting on this amazing level of musicianship and musical knowledge you put in every of your songs, that your career belongs in the history of great avant-garde music as much as the history of great pop music.
Your music is truly unstoppable, with catchy choruses, and featuring the incredible partnership of Bernard Edward, the late and missed god of bass grooves. One could place you among the list of legendary duos in pop music, like McCartney and Lennon, Page and Plant, or Jagger and Richards. But I would say that your brotherhood, your perfect musical pairing– a perfect musical partnership of syncopation and groove, and an alliance of guitar parts and bass lines that seem to come from outer space — belongs among the ranks of the great genius-duos of jazz music such as Parker and Davis, or Monk and Coltrane.
In your adult life, you went on to literally redefine the sound of pop music. You have worked with Madonna, the B52’s, Sugarhill Gang, Diana Ross, David Bowie, The Stray Cats, Al Jarreau, and many others. In 1985, you were named the No. 1 Singles producer in the world by Billboard. Everyone in this room has danced to “Let’s Dance”, “The Reflex”, “Like a Virgin”, and “Love Shack”, and everyone has listened to your collaborations with Al Jarreau or Laurie Anderson. Your productions have sold over 200 million albums and 50 million singles worldwide, and you have more than 200 production credits to your name.
But there’s something else that’s incredibly important about your music: it is part of the global collective unconsciousness. How many other artists can say they have touched hearts and souls from the world’s largest cities to the smallest towns, from famous clubs to intimate celebrations, and for over forty years? Audiences don’t just know your hit singles. Your music can be heard in famous films such as Thelma and Louise, and in many others. You also founded a music studio for video game music, and your tracks can be heard in some of today’s most popular and successful games. Your music can be heard everywhere, and has gained a fame that few others can match.
When it comes to hip-hop, you played a major role in the musical genre’s very invention. Countless hip- hop artists have sampled your music, like the Notorious B.I.G. did in 1997, sampling Diana Ross’s “I’m coming out”.
But there is also something profound under the surface of your singles: your hits often hide “hidden messages” that address our modern society. You said that “My intention is to mix some sort of intellectualism with a certain degree of accessibility, what I call hooks, to make people listen to the secondary message.” Is there any better example of this hidden meaning than a song like “At last I am free”? Another example: “Good Times,” which came out in 1979, was released at the peak of the economic crisis and at a moment of great uncertainty in the United States. Your music always spoke out in opposition to times of constraint and prejudice, times when social issues put a strain on the cohesion of American society. You once said that the years at the end of the seventies were “the worst economic period since the Great Depression, but disco was so hedonistic you’d think everyone was a multimillionaire.”
Nile, you are a sort of musical chameleon. The strength of your music transcends every trend. “My mind is just a waterfall of stuff”, you said, adding that you “see the world in music.” Those who see the world in music, I guess, are able to resist the constraints of time and space. But your success comes also from a deep understanding of society and of popular culture. Your organic, perfectly-crafted music has attracted the attention of groups like Daft Punk in recent years. In 2014, you won a Grammy Award for your work on Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories, known for its chart-topping singles “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance”. Daft Punk was so appreciative of your help that they made a video in which they sent you a message reading: “Dear Nile, we are sending you this transmission to thank you for all your amazing songs. Your music continues to inspire the world. With love, Daft Punk.”
Throughout the course of all of your hard work, you have displayed generosity, kindness, grace, dignity, and positivity. You have shown a deep love for your family and friends, and a genuine kindness and regard for all of humanity.
This love for others is manifested in your humanitarian actions. Following 9/11, you founded the “We are Family Foundation” to help promote healing for many people and families. Your project also sought to empower young people to positively affect the world. Your idea was to “amplify the ideas and impact of young people.”
The projects undertaken by your foundation have resonated with all of us, French or American. Your projects have served to “provide clean water across Africa,” “get climate change in school curricula,” and “reduce cyberbullying.”
You have also a long history of advocating for social justice. You participated in the Civil Rights Movement, becoming a member of the Black Panther Party of Harlem. Through your actions and through your music, you have always been a leader in the fight for justice and peace.
Dear Nile, thank you so much for having changed so many lives. You have brought us such happiness, turning us into better, more positive people. For decades, you have taken us on thrilling musical adventures in the land of the groove. You said once that “Daft Punk and I were on a unified plane of grooviness.” We are all on Nile Rodger’s unified plane of grooviness, and every time you offer a new musical adventure, “we’ll be there,” to quote Chic’s most recent single.
For all of this, it is a great honor to present you with this award.
Niel Rodgers, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.