Diana Ross was told 'I'm Coming Out' would ruin her career, says Nile Rodgers

Rodgers said he was inspired to write the song in 1980 for Ross' gay fan base.
Diana Ross Performs On Stage
American singer Diana Ross performs on stage at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois, September 4, 1982.Paul Natkin / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" has become an LGBTQ Pride anthem, but the singer was warned four decades ago that the song could ruin her career, according to songwriter Nile Rodgers.

"We never delved into the meaning or why we wrote it — until 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," Rodgers said in a new interview with Yahoo Music.

He recalled Ross coming back to the studio "crestfallen and heartbroken." She then asked Rodgers and his co-writer, Bernard Edwards, why they were trying to ruin her career.

Nile Rodgers of Chic performs at North Sea Jazz Festival on July 14, 2018 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.Dimitri Hakke / Getty Images

"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?'"

Rodgers said he was inspired to write the song after he visited a nightclub and saw drag queens dressed as Ross. That's when he realized the singer had a huge gay fan base.

Diana Ross with Diana Ross drag queen impersonators on Jan. 7, 1996 in West Hollywood, California.

"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," he remembered.

“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!”

RuPaul and Diana Ross in 1996.

Many of the other songs written for that album, "Diana," were deeply personal. Rodgers thinks because of that, Crocker implied that people would assume she was actually coming out herself.

"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," Rodgers said.

Ross decided to release the song in 1980 despite being warned against it. It went on to become a top five hit. Crocker also ended up playing the record "like crazy." And 40 years later, it continues to be a staple of Pride playlists around the world.