“I’ve got to do my own thing / Fly my own way / Solve my own puzzle / I know it will be all mine / And I can’t worry about what you think…” – D.J. Rogers
The universal order of sacred and secular music ministry has lost one of its mightiest messengers upon the passing of DeWayne Julius Rogers, better known as singer/songwriter/producer “D.J. Rogers.” The music hero to many died of heart failure at age 72. The very first song on his very first self-titled album in 1973 declared, “Listen to the Message.” And through his divinely scribed works of sumptuous melody, driving rhythm and inspirational rhyme, D.J. lifted spirits, tuned minds to higher planes, mentored the next generation and saved many a life…including his own.
D.J. Rogers is best known for composing, singing, producing and arranging one of the most poignant ballads of `70s Soul: “Say You Love Me.” This achingly vulnerable and sincere slice of Gospel-rooted R&B devotion – introduced on D.J.’s benchmark sophomore album, It’s Good to Be Alive (RCA – 1975) – was later recorded by Natalie Cole, Jennifer Holliday, CeCe Rogers and Danish-American star Zindy. The song was also sampled, ‘chopped-n-screwed’ style, for the hit single/video “I Don’t **** With You” by rapper Big Sean.
Though Rogers’ road in life and music was land-mined with setbacks, he steadily pressed on to the beat of his own drum.
DeWayne Julius Rogers was the first born of four brothers and a sister – all but one born in Los Angeles. His father, Reverend Julius Cesar Rogers, was a minister, singer and choir director. D.J.’s mother was Eula. Upon Eula’s passing, the senior Rogers married Wanda Rogers who helped raise all of his children.
D.J. Rogers started singing at age 3 and later in his father’s The House of Refuge Church of God in Christ (COGIC). Watching how his father utilized soulful syncopation to get people’s attention for The Word influenced D.J. greatly. His grandmother, Theresa Margaret Rogers, a gifted Valedictorian writer of plays and musicals from Greenville, Texas, also imparted her gifts to D.J. With no formal training, D.J. began pecking out melodies on piano. Of assistance was his friend, Billy Preston. “We were two years apart,” D.J. once explained, “but because of his ability to write plus play everything, I looked up to him.” D.J. traveled with the Los Angeles Community Choir directed by Harrison Johnson, and was featured on five albums by the ensemble for Savoy Records. D.J. sang lead on “I Decided to Make Jesus My Choice,” a gospel gem now in all hymn books. D.J. performed and recorded with Gospel Godfather James Cleveland, and in 1968 when “Brother Henderson” (from XERB-AM) formed The Watts Community Choir, he hired D.J. to be the MD, primary composer and producer of their LP on Proverb Records. But in 1969, D.J. decided to leave Gospel, inspired by Sly Stone. “There’s a scripture in The Bible that says, ‘Go into all the world,’ D.J. witnessed. “I put my lil’ money together and began recording at Ray Charles’ studio with engineer David Braithwaite.”
D.J.’s demos found their way to rocker Leon Russell’s indie, Shelter Records, where he recorded two albums. Only one was released in 1973. A move to corporate giant RCA Records in 1975 started off rocky when the title track/first single of his LP It’s Good to Be Alive fared poorly. D.J. was on the verge of being dropped from RCA…until that fateful Thanksgiving morning when Tony Jones, a disc jockey at KJLH-FM started playing “Say You Love Me,” a nearly 6-minute ballad that was one of the four demos that got him signed. KJLH’s phones lit up, KGFJ-AM then KDAY-AM followed suit. The song became #1 on all three!
While that album became an underground classic here, in Japan and across Europe, D.J. released two more for RCA: On the Road Again (1976) and Love, Music & Life (1977). It was while D.J. was on stage at Reve Gipson’s annual “Youth On-Parade” program in Los Angeles – that year honoring Earth, Wind & Fire – when the band’s leader, Maurice White, first heard him. The next week, D.J. performed on ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’ where White saw him again followed by a ‘P.U.S.H. For Excellence’ TV special. Maurice called D.J. exclaiming, ‘Hey man, I can’t get away from you! I want what you’re doing to be a part of what I’m doing.” White signed D.J. to his ARC/Columbia Records imprint. This resulted in three classic LPs beginning with the biggest, Love Brought Me Back (1978) followed by Trust Me (1979) and The Message is Still the Same (1980). Shockingly, a fourth produced and penned expressly for D.J. by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson was recorded but never released.
At an annual event given by Rev. James Cleveland for artists and actors, D.J. was introduced to the woman who became his wife of 39 years, Ms. Brenda Rogers. That same year (1981), D.J. answered God’s call to the ministry, becoming an in-demand speaker, later appearing on the Oprah Winfrey FM Satellite Radio Network hosted by Dr. Maya Angelou: a close friend. In 1982, D.J. released Hope Songs Vol. 1 but a 1993 CD for Elektra Records was never released.
D.J. Rogers was a coveted guest and/or contributor to the recordings of many: from Gospel’s The Clark Sisters, Donald Lawrence, Kirk Franklin, Hezekiah Walker, Keith Pringle and Darius Brooks to Jazz’s Patrice Rushen, Gene Harris, The Brecker Brothers and Webster Lewis to R&B’s Shirley Brown, Leon Haywood, Maxayn, Mary McCreary, Memphis Horns, G.A.P. Band, Carrie Lucas, Helen Baylor, Lauryn Hill and 112 to Pop fireball Tom Jones to British Afro-Cuban band Osibisa, David Diggs…and The Black Chorus of Brown University.
Rogers’ music segued smoothly into Hip Hop via rapper Common sampling D.J.’s “Faithful to the End” for his song “Faithful,” and Faith Evans singing it as an interlude on her 2001 CD, Faithfully. Rap band The Roots – known for playing its own music – included only one sample on its 2011 CD, Undun: 4 bars from D.J.’s “Where There’s a Will,” looped throughout their song, “Kool On.”
Musician extraordinaire Jerry Peters, a childhood friend, proclaimed, “There are five male vocalists from `70s Soul who remain highly influential: Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Charlie Wilson, Peabo Bryson…and D.J. Rogers. He’s raw yet so very classy and in possession of a great personality, enabling him to engage with every strata of people.”
A survivor who did so by fighting and via miracles, never stopped writing. His last works include an unreleased album, companion book, plus scores of unreleased songs. Wife Brenda shares, “Even in the hospital, God never stopped feeding him.”
D.J. Rogers is survived by wife Brenda. Also, D.J. leaves behind daughters Wendy and Cilia, son DeWayne J. Rogers Jr., father Rev. Julius C. Rogers & wife Wanda Rogers, brothers Rudy and Michael, sister Deborah, and extended family. Brothers Kenneth Rogers and Edward Smith preceded D.J. in death.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Valerie Simpson-sponsored GoFundMe Campaign: www.GoFundMe.com/f/dj-rogers-legacy – created to ensure that The Legacy of D.J. Rogers lives on.