Lionel Richie has a discography ofalbums and singles second to none and is part of the fabric of American popmusic. In fact, Lionel Richie and IrvingBerlin are the only two songwriters in history to achieve the honor of having#1 records for nine consecutive years.
The real story behind Lionel isessentially the American dream. Lionelwas born in Tuskegee Alabama. He livedin a small, isolated, predominantly African American community in the originalhome of Booker T. Washington. His familyhome is situated directly on the campus of what is now Tuskegee University andwas previously The Tuskegee Institute, home the of the Tuskegee Airmen.Lionel’s grandmother, Adelaide Foster, a classical pianist, lived to be102. His father, Lionel Richie Sr., wasa military man, strict, regimented but also sincere towards his wife andchildren. Lionel’s mother, AdelaideRichie, was an English teacher. Lionel,to this day, values proper grammar because his mother always enforced its use.Lionel also has a younger sister, Deborah, who has dedicated most of her lifeto education and has recently completed her master’s degree from the Universityof California Los Angeles.
In Lionel’s college years, he was atennis player, and one fortuitous day he was walking across campus in hisshort, white tennis shorts carrying a saxophone. A few members of a group called The Mystics,approached Lionel and asked if he knew how to play that saxophone. Lionel, knowing a couple notes, proudlyexclaimed, “Yes!” Eventually, Lionel wasinvited to join their group which would later be renamed The Commodores.
Lionel joined bass player andtrumpeter Ronald La Pread, keyboardist, trombonist and rhythm guitarist MilanWilliams, trumpeter, rhythm guitarist and synthesizer player William “WAK”King, lead guitarist Thomas McClary and Walter Orange, vocalist anddrummer. It was Walter who was theoriginal lead. Lionel played saxophone and piano. Originally, the group was called The Mysticsand then The ‘Jays. One day, whiletrying to decide on a new name for the group, the band decided to open thedictionary at random and point to a word. As the story goes, they almost calledthemselves the Commodes. However, thegroup, knowing they could not bear to become known as The Commodes, decided onthe name The Commodores.
In 1968, Lionel, defying hisparents, joined this musical group, because he wanted to leave the confines ofTuskegee and travel to perform in a group that he hoped would be a hugesuccess. His first taste of stardom camewhen he was performing in New York and a group of female fans began to screamhis name. Lionel reluctantly followed aband member’s suggestion to reach down and kiss a girl in the front row. He knew, however, that this act was thebeginning of his stardom. This small pack of girls would turn into millions ofscreaming fans yelling not only his name, but also singing along with every oneof his songs at every one of his shows.
Motown Records was founded inDetroit, Michigan by Berry Gordy, CEO and Chairman and was huge by 1971. Skip Miller was the Vice President of MotownUniversity as Lionel jokingly calls it today. One night, Skip Miller walked into a club, saw The Commodores perform onstage and realized these kids had talent. Lionel, along with the rest of the group, was presented to Berry Gordyand given a record deal. This recordlabel was prolific at the time because it had the most respected R&B andsoul acts of the era including The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smoky Robinson,Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Jackson 5, who The Commodores wouldlater tour with. As the opening act forThe Jackson 5, The Commodores began the start of their internationalsuccess. They released their firstsingle, “Machine Gun” in 1974, which reached #7 on the US R&B charts. The Commodores would go on have more singlesthat topped the charts including “Brick House”, “Just To Be Close To You”, “TooHot Ta Trot” to list a few.
Lionel, after sitting in numerousstudio sessions with Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Smoky Robinson, began toask questions. In his innocence, Lionelonce asked Marvin Gaye “Which musicconservatory did you graduate from?” Marvin responded “Little brother, I cannot read or write music.” This opened up Lionel’s thinking. If Marvin Gaye, who at that time was one of the most creative songwriters,couldn’t read or write music, then maybe he should try to achieve success as asongwriter as well. It is at this momentthat Lionel Richie, vocalist, pianist, and saxophonist added songwriter to hisrepertoire. He became influentialwithin The Commodores due to his ability to write songs without genreboundaries, hence, “Three Times A Lady”, “Stuck On You”, “Lady” featuring KennyRogers, “Still” and “Easy.”
In 1981, when Lionel decided topursue a solo career, his fans rolled with him. They watched Lionel become one of the most successful artists of the1980’s, earning a string of 13 top ten hits between 1981 and 1987, includingnine #1 singles. The first was, “Endless Love”, a ballad that he wrote andsang as a duet with his dear friend,Miss Diana Ross. Afterwards came thesuccess of “Truly,” “All Night Long,” “Hello,” and “Say You (Say Me”) for whichhe won his Oscar and a Golden Globe. His1982 self-titled album established a run of platinum plus albums throughout the80’s, with 1986’s Dancing On The Ceiling “ becoming a pop and R&Bclassic. He also found time to co-writewith Michael Jackson what eventually would become pop’s most famous anthem, theLive-Aid tune “We Are The World.”
Lionel has built a life out ofdoing precisely what people presumed he could not do. “Growing up if you told me to go left, I wouldgo right,” laughs Lionel. “If youbrought me into a room and said there’s one door that I absolutely cannot open,that’s the door I’m going to open.” Andjust like the legends he admires, from Sinatra to Santana, Lionel knows whatit’s like to hear a door close as well. He’s survived the roller coaster ride of the music business by refusingto let others define him. The LionelRichie story has always been about making that leap of faith with no net.
Lionel has upheld his amazing runby relating simply and honestly to the people who now celebrate his records asquintessential moments in their lives Lionel’s rapport with his fans is legendary. Not only do they sing along at his concertsall over the world, but also the ‘first name basis’ he’s earned in their heartshas been protocol since his days with The Commodores.
Lionel’scontinuing relevance as a multi-generational artist was evidenced by hisinclusion as a celebrity judge on “American Idol.” The performance of his classic “Easy” by oneof the finalists during the 2006 season of the show was another reminder ofLionel’s enduring presence and effect on the contemporary music scene. Further keeping Lionel as part of thechanging world of music, he has enlisted some of the top writers and producerssuch as Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, Akon, Sean Garrett, Stargate, Tricky Dream and Kuk, Ne-Yo, John Eubankand Bob Sinclar. This new breed of writers and producers has slews of #1 hitsingles and albums between them for artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, toname a few.
Lionelreleased his eighth studio album entitled "Coming Home"on September 12, 2006. The first single of the album was "I Call It Love" andpremiered in July 2006, becoming his biggest hit in the U.S. in ten years. Hisadopted daughter, Nicole, stars in the music video for this track. The albumwas an incredible success for Richie in the United States, peaking at #6.
In 2012,Lionel went back to his Tuskegee roots by re-working some of his biggest hitsas duets with country superstars such as Shania Twain, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, TimMcGraw, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, and Little Big Town. The album was one the biggest of his careerreaching #1 on the Billboard Top 200 list and garnering huge critical acclaim.Tuskegee also received a national two-hour CBS television special withperformances by Richie and the album’s country duet partners that was thetop-rated show of the night with more than 8 million viewers. “I realized that my songs perfectly translatedto the country genre,” said Richie about the album. “I was born and raisedin Tuskegee, Alabama. I am a country boy and proud of it. To do this projectjust felt natural.”
On the heels of the success of theTuskegee album, in 2013 Lionel launched a global tour entitled “All The Hits,All Night Long” and he has proved to fans that he can deliver exactlythat. A two hour set spanning his entirecatalogue of music has lead to a fan frenzy and high praise from press aroundthe world. Lionel has take the tour toevery part of the planet including Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East andNorth America.
You would think that Lionel wouldbe content with his career, which has spanned over three decades, but Lionelinsists on pushing forward and marking new territory in his musical legacy. It is of utmost importance to Lionel tomaintain a personal growing relationship with his fans, who he definitelyvalues as one of the many reasons for his continuing success.