Coming to America is a truly timeless comedy: Eddie Murphy in his prime and Arsenio Hall before people forgot who Arsenio Hall is. The film was a domestic and worldwide success, earning over $128 million in the U.S. Part of that success — typically an overlooked aspect of many films — was the score to the John Landis directed film, written and composed by Nile Rodgers.
How did Rodgers — known to many for his role in the disco and R&B band Chic — land the job? Landis and Murphy had worked together in one of his breakout films, Trading Places, when some unknown person gushed to Landis about Rodgers’ ability.
“This new guy, Nile Rodgers, is actually a genius,” Rodgers recalls of a conversation Landis had. “He does classical music, he does jazz, he does everything. I think he can score the movie and then write all the music that’s in the film.”
Rodgers composed all the music for the film, including the traditional African pieces, Paula Abdul’s dance number and possibly the most memorable of them all, the jingle for “Soul Glo.” Run your fingers through your hair while watching the magic below.
John Landis discovered the real mastery behind Rodgers’ work during a moment when the Chic founder believed he was going to lose his job. Originally, Landis planned to use “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” during the opening credits of the film (you remember it from Disney’s The Lion King). An admitted music history buff, Rodgers was aware that the song was based on the South African vocal music known as Mbube. Rodgers flew in musicians and proceeded to record the music, unbeknownst to Landis.
“I recorded it behind his back, he didn’t even know because we were on such a tight schedule,” Rodgers told CBS Radio. “[I] got the music dubber to dub it into the beginning of the film and when we went to watch the movie he was expecting to hear ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.'” Moments later, Rodgers expected he would be handed a pink slip and sent on his way, when he was met with a pleasant surprise. “All of a sudden, he’s looking at me… he pointed and he went, ‘That’s why you’re Nile Rodgers. You’re a genius. I love it. It’s great.'”
Watch the opening credits to Coming to America below:
Rodgers will be holding his own one-day festival on August 19th — the Nile Rodgers + CHIC Dance Party for AFTEE — in Riverhead, New York at Martha Clara Vineyards. Special guest performers include Adam Lambert, Russel Peters, Chromeo, Mystery Skulls and Avicii, whose appearance he let slip during an interview with CBS-FM’s Joe Causi.
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–E.J. Judge/CBS Local
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