Nile Rodgers, LL Cool J, & Roger Daltrey Celebrate We Are Family Foundation With Nostalgia-Filled Concert

Shahar Azran/WireImage
Nile Rogers poses in the Bulova booth during the 2018 We Are Family Foundation Celebration Gala at Hammerstein Ballroom on April 27, 2018 in New York City. 

The worlds of funk, rock, and hip-hop collided on Friday night (April 27) at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom as legendary producer, Nile Rodgers, painted the historic venue with joy, positivity and a whole lot of “sauce” for the annual We Are Family Foundation gala.

Named after Sister Sledge’s 1979 classic “We Are Family” -- which was written and produced by Rodgers -- the multi-hyphenate launched the non-profit We Are Family Foundation following the 9/11 tragedy that struck New York in 2001. We Are Family set out on a mission to create programs for youth that encouraged cultural diversity and supported the vision and talents of young people with a passion to positively change the world.

While the honorees of the night included celebrated rapper LL Cool J and the rock star himself, The Who's Roger Daltrey, this year’s WAFF gala was especially momentous for the organization thanks to its swelling number of ambitious, innovative self-starters dedicated to solving some of the world’s biggest problems through their own entrepreneurial endeavors.

"Why do we do what we do? Because the kids really are the future and I see it in my organization every day. The kids in my organization surprise me, inspire me -- they’re definitely taking over," Rodgers told Billboard on the red carpet. "The main goal of our organization is to help the youth amplify their message and we have the platform to help amplify their voices."

After Rodgers greeted the audience and thanked them for their support, the hitmaker introduced the room to Abu Qader, a college freshman who launched his own health care initiative called Glialab. Glialab is a software designed to help doctors better detect breast cancer tumors.

"I built an artificially-intelligent medical diagnosis platform that can diagnose breast cancer from just a mammogram. It’s quicker and has a 98% accuracy rate -- and it’s free," he said, prompting the crowd to erupt in applause. "The hard parts came in cascading waves; it came when researchers doubted that a teenager had the programming proficiency to build such a tool. It came when investors doubted that a teenager could actually run a company and ironically, it came when healthcare providers -- even after releasing what I had built publicly -- doubted that a teenager had built something more accurate than them."

Qader was just one of the many young trailblazers in the room, including four students from Parkland, Fla., who turned their tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School into platforms rooted in positive change. The four students in attendance were Jack Macleod (co-founder of Students For Change), Morgan Williams (co-founder #StoriesUntoldUS), Ariana Ali (Outreach, Students For Change), and Sarah Chadwick (March For Our Lives).

Rodgers then went on to award the night’s honorees. Daltrey -- who was awarded the Mattie J.T Stepanek Peacemaker Award for his organization, Teen Cancer America, and other charitable efforts -- took the stage to dedicate his award to the kids of the future and Mattie J.T Stepanek.

"When I saw Mattie Stepanek on the internet -- because I hadn’t heard of him before -- I was so inspired by his words but then when I saw [his mother] Jeni, I was floored by her strength, her beauty, her radiance, her glow and now she has this dreadful disease," Daltrey said of Mattie Stepanek, an American poet known for his seven best-selling poetry books published before his death at age 13 in 2004. "But she’s bigger than that and is one of the most amazing people humans I’ve ever seen. So thank you, Jeni, and thank you, Nile."

Fellow honoree LL Cool J, who made history back in December as the first hip-hop artist to receive the Kennedy Center Honor, was awarded with the Humanitarian Award for his community outreach programs including his own charity, Jump & Ball, which provides youth athletic and team building opportunities right in his hometown of Queens, N.Y.

"I'm a kid from Queens. No matter what I do in Hollywood, I won't forget that. I won't forget where I came from," he said. "What Nile is doing, the amazing things that I'm seeing on the screens and the amazing things a lot of the people in this room is doing inspires me and impresses me. As an artist, art speaks to us and we speak through art but we also want to sow seeds in [the kids'] future."

If there's anyone who knows how to party, it's Rodgers, who opened the stage up for Daltrey and LL to perform a medley of their hits. Daltrey had almost every lady in the room swooning as he dove into The Who's classics "Who Are You" and "Behind Blue Eyes" (the latter including an impressive harmonica solo). 

LL brought the crowd back home to Queens as he dipped into his archive for a fiery performance of "Mama Said Knock You Out" and "Rock The Bells." Rodgers strummed his guitar during Daltrey and LL's set, but when it was time for him and Chic to hit the stage, Rodgers' energy skyrocketed. 

The 65-year-old musician soared through hits like opener "Everybody Dance," "I Want Your Love," and "Le Freak." Rodgers took a moment to open up about his bout with cancer and said that the warm, euphoric feeling his Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams-assisted track "Get Lucky" evokes is what helped him during his recovery. 

"Obviously I feel like the luckiest person in the world because tonight as I stand before you, I am cancer free," he proclaimed. "So when Chic performs this, we always have to do things with a little extra sauce, so here is the way we do it." 

Chic lead vocalist Kimberly Davis took center stage to deliver a slow, sultry opening of "Get Lucky" before the booming, funk-laden melody pervaded the Hammerstein Ballroom. Chic kept the tunes flowing until their epic, eponymous closer, "We Are Family." Attendees young and old illuminated the ballroom space with their cell phone lights and belted out Rodgers' classics with vigor, proving that the disco legend that got his start in the '70s can still get the party started to this day.