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Richie, Lionel

Lionel Richie

1949—

Pop singer, songwriter

The ballads written and sung by Lionel Richie, both as part of the group the Commodores and during an impressive solo career, formed a soundtrack for countless American romances in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Richie achieved a string of successes matched by few other popular songwriters, with his compositions rising to the number-one position on the U.S. pop singles chart at least once in every year between 1977 and 1985. The most successful interpreter of Richie's songs continues to be Richie himself, and for more than a quarter-century the quintessential romantic balladeer has touched Americans of all races and walks of life.

Richie's musical personality was formed at one of the crucial intellectual sites for African Americans: the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. He was born on June 20, 1949, and his childhood home was actually on the school's campus, where his father, a U.S. Army systems analyst, lived with his mother, an educator who later became a school principal. Richie's musical education drew on the diverse sonic streams that passed through Tuskegee. His maternal grandmother favored classical music and reacted coolly to her grandson's first forays into pop songwriting. Northern African-American pop and southern soul found their ways to Tuskegee. Hoping at one point to become an Episcopal minister, Richie gravitated toward gospel music. He was also influenced by another tradition whose reach among African Americans is sometimes underestimated: "Because it was the South, it was hard not to hear country music," he was quoted as saying by Irwin Stambler in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul.

Joined Group at Tuskegee

Enrolling at Tuskegee himself, Richie joined forces with a group of other students he met at a talent show; the attraction for the others was that Richie owned a saxophone. Richie, for his own part, was successful in concealing the fact that he barely knew how to play it. A gifted musician who had taught himself to play the piano by ear, Richie made rapid strides as a performer and composer at Tuskegee. The group, first called the Mystics, became the Commodores after the word was picked at random out of a dictionary. Richie discarded his religious ambitions in favor of courses in economics and accounting that proved ideal training for a career in the financially cutthroat music business.

The Commodores struggled for a time, gaining fans across Alabama but losing all their equipment to van thieves on a 1969 trip to New York. Regardless, they bounced back, landing a series of club appearances and signing on with a manager, Benny Ashburn, who would stay with them until his death during Richie's years of solo stardom. Signing briefly to the Atlantic record label, they went nowhere, but when they attracted the attention of Motown Records executive Suzanne de Passe in 1971, they gained wide exposure when she slated them as the opening act for many of the tours of that label's brother-act dynamo: the Jackson Five.

The heavy funk sound of the Commodores did not fit the polished, smoothed Motown mold, however, and the group's first record for the label, Machine Gun, was not released until 1974. That album and successors performed solidly, and the group broke through to the pop Top Ten with the ballad "Sweet Love" in 1976. This song, a Richie composition, also marked a new direction musically for the group. Even though earlier singles such as 1975's "Slippery When Wet" had been primarily dance-oriented, the group came to believe that the secret to long-lasting success lay in the cultivation of romantic balladry. "Sweet Love" proved only the first of a series of romantic numbers from Richie's pen: "Just to Be Close to You" and "Easy" rose into the pop Top Ten.

Most successful of all was 1978's "Three Times a Lady," whose waltz tempo perhaps showed the influence of the country music Richie had heard as a young man. This song, a feature of weddings for years to come, achieved platinum status for sales of one million copies, as did the album Natural High, from which it was taken. The song propelled the Commodores and the increasingly dominant Richie to national stardom. The Commodores enjoyed a string of hits between 1978 and 1981, and no ill will arose between the group members. But Richie found himself in demand for his own creative talents alone. He wrote and produced "Lady" for pop superstar Kenny Rogers in 1980, and followed it up with "Endless Love," a duet he recorded with Diana Ross. These songs remained atop the U.S. pop charts for six and nine weeks, respectively.

Whether recorded with the Commodores, by other artists, or on his own, Richie's ballads were instantly identifiable. Simple and seemingly inevitable in their gentle progressions, they hide Richie's considerable craft as a songwriter. For his own part, Richie credited God as his "co-composer" in an interview with Ebony writer Robert E. Johnson quoted in Contemporary Musicians. Richie played to his strengths on his debut solo album, Lionel Richie, which was released in 1982. Its hit singles "Truly" and "You Are" closely followed the style of the Commodores' chart successes.

Co-composed "We Are the World"

Richie's second and third solo albums, 1983's Can't Slow Down and 1986's Dancing on the Ceiling, broadened his reach. "All Night Long," the lead single from Can't Slow Down, was an upbeat, tropical-flavored dance piece that resembled none of the leading rhythm and blues (R&B), disco, and funk dance styles of the time. These albums were among the biggest successes of the 1980s, and Can't Slow Down was claimed to be the best-selling release in the history of the Motown label. Gaining Richie even more acclaim and publicity than any of his solo efforts, though, was the all-star recording "We Are the World," which he co-composed with fellow pop superstar Michael Jackson and recorded with an all-star lineup of artists. Profits from sales and performances of the song went toward African famine relief.

At a Glance …

Born Lionel B. Richie Jr. on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, AL; son of Lionel Sr. and Alberta Richie; married Brenda Harvey, 1975 (divorced); married Diane Alexander, 1996 (divorced); children: (with Harvey) Nicole; (with Alexander) Miles, Sofia. Education: Graduated from Tuskegee Institute, 1974.

Career: Joined the Commodores while in college; began solo production work and composition for other artists, late 1970s—; co-composed and recorded "We Are the World," 1985.

Awards: Selected Awards: Three platinum albums; four gold albums; eighteen Grammy Award nominations and four awards; twelve American Music Awards; five People's Choice Awards for Best Song; numerous other industry awards; Academy Award, "Say You, Say Me," 1986; honorary doctorate, Tuskegee University, 1986.

Addresses: Web—http://www6.islandrecords.com/site/artist_home.php?artist_id=342.

By the late 1980s, Richie had few worlds left to conquer. He continued to enter into collaborative efforts, winning an Academy Award for Best Song and notching yet another number-one single for the song "Say You, Say Me" from the film White Nights. He tapped the country music vein yet again in a recording he composed for and performed with the country group Alabama, "Deep River Woman."

In 1992 Richie released the Back to Front greatest-hits package; it included "Do It to Me," a new song that once again topped the charts. Richie moved to the Mercury label in the 1990s, releasing the modestly successful Louder Than Words (1996) and Time (1998); these discs largely avoided any updating of Richie's sound with contemporary hip-hop influences. In 2000 Richie raised his profile somewhat when he appeared as the opening act on the farewell tour of soul superstar Tina Turner, and planned a new release, Renaissance, that featured the teen-oriented Backstreet Boys.

Continued Being Successful, Despite Family Issues

In 2003 Richie's second wife, Diane, filed for divorce after nearly seven years of marriage. According to CNN, Diane was seeking financial support in keeping with the couple's previously extravagant lifestyle, which included spending as much as $300,000 per month. In official documents released to the court, Diane claimed that she spent as much as $15,000 per month on clothing and $20,000 per year on cosmetic surgery. Shortly after their divorce, Diane and her alleged lover, Daniel Serrano, were accused of using Diane's house to perform illegal plastic surgery procedures involving an injection that was purported to ease the signs of aging. Diane was arrested and charged with two counts of aiding and abetting.

After 2003, Richie's adopted daughter from his first marriage, Nicole Richie, began gaining fame of her own largely owing to her association with Paris Hilton and appearance on the reality television series The Simple Life. Nicole's celebrity life was tumultuous, including a widely publicized arrest for possession of heroin in 2003 and a second arrest in 2006 for driving under the influence of alcohol. In addition, after 2006, a number of tabloid journalists speculated that she had developed an eating disorder. Nicole's various problems soon brought Richie's family life into question, and he appeared in numerous interviews defending his daughter's behavior and expressing his hope that she would find a solution to her problems. Richie expressed his regret at not having been a better father, owing to his busy work schedule, but affirmed his intention to help his daughter in whatever way he could.

Richie's 2006 album, Coming Home, marked a turning point in his career, as the album was his most popular in more than a decade and debuted at number six in Billboard's top two hundred album rankings. Richie conducted an extensive publicity tour that was followed by a series of concerts in small venues across the United States. With an increasing base of fans and a number-one ranked single, "I Call It Love," Richie was asked to perform at the 2007 Grammy Awards. Richie's 2007 concert series featured songs from the span of his solo career blended with new compositions and classics from his time with the Commodores.

As he neared sixty, Richie had cemented his place as one of the premier R&B artists of his generation. Though his recent life has been filled as much with family strife as with professional success, he continues to be a force in the music industry, by blending his R&B roots with the popular music of a new generation. In a 2006 interview with National Public Radio's Tony Cox, Richie reflected on his career, "It's not where you've been, it's where you're going…. We start out with nothing, then the rest of it in-between is, who did you touch, how did you affect them, and what memories do they have of you?"

Selected discography

Albums

Lionel Richie, Motown, 1982.

Can't Slow Down, Motown, 1983.

Dancing on the Ceiling, Motown, 1986.

Back to Front, Motown, 1992.

Louder than Words, Mercury, 1996.

Time, Mercury, 1998.

Renaissance, 2000.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 2, Gale, 1990.

Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, April 21, 2000, p. 75.

Jet, August 30, 1999, p. 32.

Oakland Tribune, November 28, 2006.

People, July 20, 1998, p. 39.

San Diego Union Tribune, December 4, 2004.

Online

Cox, Tony, "A Tuneful ‘Coming Home’ for Lionel Richie," National Public Radio,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6057529 (accessed December 20, 2007).

"Lifestyle of the Richie and Famous," CNN Online,http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/03/03/offbeat.people.richie.reut/index.html (accessed December 20, 2007).

"Lionel Richie: Nicole Made Mistakes," ABC News Online,http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=3445473 (accessed December 20, 2007).

—James M. Manheim and Micah L. Issit

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Richie, Lionel

Lionel Richie

Singer, songwriter

The ballads written and sung by Lionel Richie, both as part of the group the Commodores and during an impressive solo career, have formed a soundtrack for countless American romances from the 1970s on. Richie achieved a string of successes matched by few other popular songwriters, with his compositions rising to the number one position on the American pop singles chart at least once in every year between 1977 and 1985. After a recording hiatus of ten years, Richie returned to the national spotlight in the late 1990s with Louder than Words, and was still going strong into the 2000s. The most successful interpreter of Richie's songs is Richie himself, and for a quarter century the quintessential romantic balladeer has touched Americans of all races and all walks of life.

Richie's musical personality was formed at one of African America's crucial intellectual sites: Alabama's Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). He was born on June 20, 1949, and his childhood home was actually on the school's campus, where his father, a U.S. Army systems analyst, lived with his mother, an educator who later became a school principal. Richie's musical education drew on the diverse sonic streams that passed through Tuskegee. His maternal grandmother favored classical music and reacted coolly to her grandson's first forays into pop songwriting. Northern black pop and southern soul found their ways to Tuskegee. Hoping at one point to become an Episcopal minister, Richie gravitated toward gospel music. He was also influenced by another tradition whose reach among African Americans is sometimes underestimated: "Because it was the South, it was hard not to hear country music," he was quoted as saying in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul.

Joined Group at Tuskegee

Enrolling at Tuskegee himself, Richie joined forces with a group of other students he met at a talent show; the attraction for the others was that Richie owned a saxophone. Richie, for his own part, was successful in concealing the fact that he barely knew how to play it. A gifted musician who had taught himself to play the piano by ear, Richie made rapid strides as a performer and composer at Tuskegee. The group, first called the Mystics, became the Commodores after the word was picked at random out of a dictionary. Richie discarded his religious ambitions in favor of courses in economics and accounting that proved ideal training for a career in the financially cutthroat music business.

The Commodores struggled for a time, gaining fans across Alabama but losing all their equipment to van thieves on a 1969 trip to New York. But they bounced back, landing a series of club appearances and signing on with a manager, Benny Ashburn, who would stay with them until his death during Richie's years of solo stardom. Signing briefly to the Atlantic record label they went nowhere, but when they attracted the attention of Motown Records executive Suzanne de Passe in 1971, they gained wide exposure when she slated them as the opening act for many of the tours of that label's brother-act dynamo, the Jackson Five.

Group Moved Toward Ballad Releases

The heavy funk sound of the Commodores did not fit the polished, smoothed Motown mold, however, and the group's first record for the label, Machine Gun, was not released until 1974. That album and successors performed solidly, and the group broke through to the pop Top Ten with the ballad "Sweet Love" in 1976. That song, a Richie composition, also marked a new direction musically for the group. Although earlier singles such as 1975's "Slippery When Wet" had been primarily dance-oriented, the group came to believe that the secret to long-lasting success lay in the cultivation of romantic balladry. "Sweet Love" proved only the first of a series of romantic numbers from Richie's pen: "Just to Be Close to You" and "Easy" rose into the pop Top Ten.

Most successful of all was 1978's "Three Times a Lady," whose waltz tempo perhaps showed the influence of the country music Richie had heard as a young man. That song, a feature of weddings for years to come, achieved platinum status for sales of one million copies, as did the album, Natural High, from which it was taken. The song propelled the Commodores and the increasingly dominant Richie to national stardom. The Commodores enjoyed a string of hits between 1978 and 1981, and no ill will arose between the group members. But Richie found himself in demand for his own creative talents alone. He wrote and produced "Lady" for pop superstar Kenny Rogers in 1980, and followed it up with "Endless Love," a duet he recorded with Diana Ross. These songs remained atop the American pop charts for six and nine weeks respectively.

Whether recorded with the Commodores, by other artists, or on his own, Richie's ballads were instantly identifiable. Simple and seemingly inevitable in their gentle progressions, they deemphasize Richie's considerable craft as a songwriter. For his own part, Richie credited God as his "co-composer" in an interview with Ebony writer Robert E. Johnson quoted in Contemporary Musicians. Richie played to his strengths on his debut solo album, Lionel Richie, which was released in 1982. Its hit singles "Truly" and "You Are" closely followed the style of the Commodores' chart successes.

For the Record …

Born Lionel B. Richie, Jr., on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, AL; son of Lionel Richie Sr., a systems analyst, and Alberta Richie, an educator; married Brenda Harvey, a musical production assistant, 1975 (divorced); married Diane Alexander, a clothing designer, 1996 (divorced, 2003); children: Nicole, Miles, Sofia. Education: Graduated from Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL, 1974.

Joined group the Commodores while in college; group signed to Motown Records, early 1970s; released debut recording Machine Gun, 1974; recorded platinum-selling ballad "Three Times a Lady," 1978; numerous other hits with Commodores, 1970s; began solo production work and composition for other artists, late 1970s; released solo debut album on Motown, Lionel Richie, 1982; four top-selling solo albums for Motown; co-composed and recorded "We Are the World" African famine relief recording, 1985; released Louder than Words album on Mercury label, 1996; released Time album, 1998; released Renaissance on the Island label, 2001; released Just for You on Island, 2004.

Awards: Grammy Awards, Pop Male Vocal for "Truly," 1992; Album of the Year for Can't Slow Down, 1984; Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, 1984; Song of the Year, for "We Are the World," 1985; many American Music Awards and People's Choice Awards; Oscar Award, Best Original Song for "Say You, Say Me," 1986; honorary doctorate, Tuskegee University, 1986.

Addresses: Record company—Universal Music Group, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website—Lionel Richie Official Website: http://www. lionelrichie.com/.

Composed "We Are the World"

Richie's second and third solo albums, 1983's Can't Slow Down and 1986's Dancing on the Ceiling, broadened his reach. "All Night Long," the lead single from "Can't Slow Down," was an upbeat, tropical-flavored dance piece that resembled none of the leading R&B, disco, and funk dance styles of the time. These albums were among the biggest successes of the 1980s, and Can't Slow Down was claimed to be the best-selling release in the history of the Motown label. Gaining Richie even more acclaim and publicity than any of his solo efforts, though, was the all-star recording "We Are the World," which he co-composed with fellow pop superstar Michael Jackson and recorded with an all-star lineup of artists. Profits from sales and performances of the song went toward African famine relief. By the late 1980s, Richie had few worlds left to conquer. He continued to enter into collaborative efforts, winning an Academy Award for Best Song and notching yet another Number One single for the song "Say You, Say Me" from the film White Nights. He tapped the country vein yet again in a recording he composed for and performed with the country group Alabama, "Deep River Woman."

In 1992, Richie released the Back to Front greatest-hits package; it included "Do It to Me," a new song that once again topped the charts. Richie moved to the Mercury label in the 1990s, and after a long break from recording, released the modestly successful Louder Than Words (1996) and Time (1998); these discs largely avoided any updating of Richie's sound with contemporary hip-hop influences.

In the year 2000 Richie raised his profile somewhat when he appeared as the opening act on the farewell tour of soul superstar Tina Turner, and penned a new release, 2001's Renaissance, that featured the teen-oriented Backstreet Boys. Richie also found himself in the spotlight in 2003 and 2004 when his daughter, Nicole, starred in the reality television show Simple Life with hotel heiress Paris Hilton. Richie followed his 2001 album Renaissance with a great hits set, The Definitive Collection, in 2003, and in 2004 with Just for You. All Music Guide deemed Just for You one of his better albums of late, calling it "assured and unassuming, relaxed and tuneful."

Selected discography

Solo albums

Lionel Richie, Motown, 1982.

Slow Down, Motown, 1983.

Dancing on the Ceiling, Motown, 1986.

Back to Front, Motown, 1992.

Louder than Words, Mercury, 1996.

Time, Mercury, 1998.

Renaissance, Island, 2001.

The Definitive Collection, Universal, 2003.

Just for You, Island, 2004.

With the Commodores

Machine Gun, Motown, 1974.

Caught in the Act, Motown, 1975.

Movin' On, Motown, 1975.

Hot on the Tracks, Motown, 1976.

Commodores, Motown, 1977.

Commodores Live!, Polygram, 1977.

Natural High, Motown, 1978.

Midnight Magic, Motown, 1979.

Sources

Books

Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, April 21, 2000, p. 75.

Jet, August 30, 1999, p. 32; June 21, 2004, p. 56.

People, July 20, 1998, p. 39.

Online

"The Commodores," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 10, 2004).

"Lionel Richie," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 8, 2004).

—James M. Manheim andMichael Belfiore

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Richie, Lionel

LIONEL RICHIE

Born: Tuskegee, Alabama, 20 June 1949

Genre: R&B, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: Louder Than Words (1996)

Hit songs since 1990: "Do It to Me," "Don't Wanna Lose You"


Agentle romantic crooner, Lionel Richie achieved stardom in the 1980s and early 1990s by applying his wistful vocals to a hit series of tender love songs. Best known for his ballads, Richie also excelled at up-tempo dance numbers that exuded a good-time party atmosphere. With his soft-spoken, conservative manner Richie came across as the romantic guy next door, an every-man who shunned sexual explicitness in favor of love, dedication, and unity. Due to a combination of personal problems and changing trends in popular music, Richie lost his popular foothold as the 1990s progressed, but took steps to regain it near the end of the decade.

Richie was raised on the campus of Alabama's prestigious Tuskegee Institute, where his grandmother gave classes in classical piano and his mother taught elementary school. In the early 1970s, while attending college at Tuskegee, Richie joined the soul and funk group the Commodores, which went on to become one of the most commercially successful groups of the decade. By the end of the 1970s Richie was taking a larger role within the group, writing and singing lead on several of its most popular songs, including "Three Times a Lady" (1978) and "Still" (1979). In 1982 Richie left the Commodores for a solo career and made his career breakthrough with Can't Slow Down (1983), which sold over 10 million copies. On songs like the party anthem "All Night Long (All Night)" and the love ballads "Hello," "Penny Lover," and "Stuck on You," Can't Slow Down perfectly captured the feel-good, upwardly mobile atmosphere of the early 1980s, before AIDS exerted its stranglehold on the nation's consciousness. "Hello," one of the most popular singles of 1984, is a prime example of Richie's greeting-card lyrical approach: "I long to see the sunlight in your hair / And tell you time and time again how much I care."

After a follow-up album, Dancing on the Ceiling (1986), Richie virtually dropped from sight, embroiled in a prolonged divorce from his first wife, Brenda, the muse who inspired some of his most successful songs. Brenda's allegations, which included charges of spousal abuse, flew in the face of Richie's nice-guy image. After additional troublesthroat problems, losing a best friend to AIDS, the death of his fatherRichie took a self-imposed hiatus from the music industry in 1987, a break that lasted nearly a decade. He managed to score a final number one rhythm and blues hit in 1992 with "Do It to Me," an energetic midtempo song that recalled the sweet feel of his 1980s hits, but otherwise fell out of the public spotlight.

By the time Richie came back on the scene in 1996, a lot had changed within the music industry. The romantic courtliness informing his best work had fallen out of fashion, giving way to the frank sexual wordplay of artists such as D'Angelo. Seeking to keep his style fresh, Richie released a comeback album, Louder Than Words (1996), that enlisted the services of hot 1990s producers and writers Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Although the years had frayed Richie's smooth baritone, Louder Than Words features several self-penned ballads, including "Nothing Else Matters" and "Don't Wanna Lose You," that capture his former warmth and honesty. On the other hand, critics found the up-tempo "I Wanna Take You Down" to be an awkward attempt at contemporary raunchiness. Singing lines such as, "Let's go deep undercover . . . you choose the style," Richie sounds forced and uncomfortable.

In 1998 Richie released a follow-up album, Time, featuring one of the best ballads of his comeback years, "I Hear Your Voice." Against a lush backdrop of strings and female voices supplying breathy "oohs" and "aahs," Richie emotes over the pain of a lost love: "I thought I'd finally learned to get on with my life / Then it all comes back . . . I hear your voice." Echoing the tactic employed decades earlier on "Still," Richie even speaks the final line, "I hear your voice," in a hushed whisper, a potentially saccharine moment made memorable by Richie's sincerity. In 2001 Richie signed with a new label, Island, and released Renaissance, a collection of mostly up-tempo tracks designed to push him even further in a contemporary direction. Encore, a live album containing new performances of his biggest hits, followed in 2003.

With his heartfelt songs and simple, direct singing, Lionel Richie is a down-to-earth, likable pop star, with the talent to tap into the current of human feeling. Speaking to the Washington Post in 2001, he accurately summarized his appeal: "I write about love. It's the only topic that does not go out of style. . . . I write songs that people can relate to in their everyday lives."

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Lionel Richie (Motown, 1982); Can't Slow Down (Motown, 1983); Dancing on the Ceiling (Motown, 1986); Louder Than Words (Mercury, 1996); Time (Mercury, 1998); Renaissance (Island, 2001); Encore (Universal, 2003).

WEBSITE:

www.lionelrichie.com.


david freeland

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Richie, Lionel

Lionel Richie

Pop singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Lionel Richie now stands at the pinnacle of pop music, recognized around the world as the most successful singer/songwriter working today, Charles Whitaker announced in a 1987 Ebony article. His string of nine No. 1 hits, Whitaker continued, in nine consecutive years, is a music business record. Richie began as a lead singer with the Commodores, a funk/pop group that came to the attention of music fans in the early 1970s, and started forging his distinguished solo career in 1982. Since that time he has garnered many awards, including three Grammys, several American Music Awards, and a 1986 Oscar for Best Original Song with his hit theme to the film White Knights, Say You, Say Me.

Richie was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. His mother and father, a school principal and a systems analyst for the U.S. Army, respectively, lived on the campus of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), where his grandfather had worked with the colleges founder, black leader Booker T. Washington. As a child, Richie was exposed to many different kinds of music, particularly by his maternal grandmother, Adlaide Foster, who taught him piano and preferred classical composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. Even then, Richie showed signs of the talent he would later become, though his grandmother did not then appreciate this fact: During my lessons, Richie recalled for Todd Gold in People, I kept trying to make up my own songs, and it annoyed her. The fledgling artist was also influenced by the ballets and symphonies he attended at Tuskegee, but he preferred listening to gospel, rhythm and blues, and country.

Richie eventually enrolled in Tuskegee Institute; his initial goal was to become an Episcopal priest. He brought with him a saxophone that an uncle had given him as a child, though he did not know how to play itaccording to Gold, he thought it would help him meet girls. Regardless, it helped Richie to meet five other Tuskegee freshmen who were forming a musical group and sought him out because they heard he had a saxophone. Apparently, Richies lack of prowess on the instrument proved no obstaclehe told Robert E. Johnson in Ebony that the men who would later become the Commodores took two years to find out that Id had no training on the sax. While Richie and the group practiced, aspiring to, as he put it for interviewer Lynn Van Matre of the Chicago Tribune, revolutionize the music business, or come out with a new sound, you know, and kill them, he also gave up his clerical ambitions in favor of an economics major and an accounting minor, which helped both the Commodores and himself in later business dealings.

For the Record

Full name, Lionel B. Richie, Jr.; born c. 1949, in Tuskegee, Ala.; son of Lionel, Sr. (a systems analyst) and Alberta (a school principal) Richie; married Brenda Harvey (a musical production assistant), 1975. Education: Graduated from Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), 1974.

Joined musical group the Commodores while in college; left group to become solo recording artist and concert performer, 1982. Has written songs and produced records for other performers, including Kenny Rogers.

Awards: Winner of three Grammy Awards; six American Music Awards; two American Black Achievement Awards from Ebony magazine and one Peoples Choice Award; Academy Award for best original song in a motion picture (White Knights), 1986, for Say You, Say Me.

Addresses: Residence Beverly Hills, Calif. ; and Tuskegee, Ala. Office- 1112 N. Sherbourne Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90069.

The Commodores first began to gather a following when they won the opportunity to open for the Jackson Fives concerts in the early 1970s. Around the same time, they signed a contract with Motown Records, and after a two-year period of searching for the right producer and arranger, began to put out albums. At first the Commodores gained a reputation for party and dance music with disco-oriented hits like the instrumental Machine Gun, and the song responsible for the dance craze of the same name, Bump. Another of their most popular singles was Brickhouse.

But by the mid-1970s, most of the Commodores, including Richie, started to feel that funky dance tunes were too ephemeral. They wanted to move towards writing and recording ballads, which they thought more likely to become timeless standards. In the same period, Richie worked more intensely on his songwriting skills than previously. The Commodores 1975 album Caught in the Act contained their first ballad hits, Sweet Love, and Just to Be Close to You. They followed these up with more slow songs, which gained popularity in large measure due to Richies romantic lyrics and smooth singing voice. Easy, Three Times a Lady, Sail On, and Still confirmed Richie and the Commodores change of style.

Richie was already working on other projects in 1980, including producing an album and writing the song Lady for country artist Kenny Rogers. In 1982 Richie decided to leave the Commodores to pursue a solo career, though his decision was not due to conflicts within the group. His first album on his own, Lionel Richie, gained him a hit with Truly, which also won him his first Grammy, as Best Male Vocalist, in 1983. His string of hits, some of which helped Richie earn his music business record, includes 1983s All Night Long, Penny Lover, and Hello ; and 1987s Dancing on the Ceiling. Richie has also had great success with film themes such as Endless Love and the Oscar-winning Say You, Say Me. Perhaps his most far-reaching and influential musical project, however, was the song We Are the World, which Richie co-wrote with pop superstar Michael Jackson. The disc was recorded by U.S.A. for Africa, and its profits were donated to the cause of famine relief in Ethiopia.

Richie believes his success as a songwriter comes from God, whom he told Johnson was his co-composer. He explained further: I give credit to my co-writer because all I did was write down what He told me to write down. Richie also revealed to Johnson that he prefers to collaborate during the night. In other words, he said, from about eleven to about seven in the morning is a very wonderful time because God aint worried with too many other folks I know He is very busy during the day, so I wait for late night, and it works for me.

Regardless of the authorship of Richies songs, along with the phenomenal mainstream popularity that he enjoys come accusations from some critics that he has abandoned his black musical roots, especially after the hit he recorded with the country group Alabama, Deep River Woman. Richie responded to this issue for Whitaker in Ebony: Im trying through my music to break the stereotype that says to satisfy Black people you have to play something funky. Im broadening the base, trying to show that Black artists are capable of playing all kinds of music.

Selected discography

With the Commodores; on Motown

Machine Gun (includes Machine Gun and Bump), 1974.

Caught in the Act (includes Zoom, Sweet Love, and Just to Be Close to You), 1975.

Commodores (includes Easy and Three Times a Lady), 1977 .

Midnight Magic (includes Sail On and Still), 1979.

Heroes (includes Jesus is Love, Got to Be Together, and An Old-Fashioned Love), 1980.

Also recorded the song Brickhouse.

Solo LPs; on Motown

Lionel Richie (includes Truly, You Are, and My Love), 1982.

Cant Slow Down (includes All Night Long and Penny Lover), 1983.

Say You, Say Me (includes Say You, Say Me), 1986. Dancing on the Ceiling (includes Dancing on the Ceiling), 1987.

Also recorded the song Deep River Woman with Alabama; also co-wrote We Are the World.

Sources

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1982.

Ebony, January, 1985; February 1987.

Jet, April 21, 1986; August 15, 1988.

People, April 14, 1986.

Elizabeth Thomas

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Richie, Lionel 1949–

Lionel Richie 1949

Pop recording artist and songwriter

Joined Group at Tuskegee

Grouped Moved Toward Ballads

Composed We Are The World

Selected discography

Sources

The ballads written and sung by Lionel Richie, both as part of the group the Commodores and during an impressive solo career, formed a soundtrack for countless American romances in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Richie achieved a string of successes matched by few other popular songwriters, with his compositions rising to the Number One position on the U.S. pop singles chart at least once in every year between 1977 and 1985. The most successful interpreter of Richies songs was Richie himself, and for a quarter century the quintessential romantic balladeer has touched Americans of all races and all walks of life.

Richies musical personality was formed at one of African Americas crucial intellectual sites: Alabamas Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). He was born on June 20, 1949, and his childhood home was actually on the schools campus, where his father, a U.S. Army systems analyst, lived with his mother, an educator who later became a school principal. Richies musical education drew on the diverse sonic streams that passed through Tuskegee. His maternal grandmother favored classical music and reacted coolly to her grandsons first forays into pop songwriting. Northern black pop and southern soul found their ways to Tuskegee. Hoping at one point to become an Episcopal minister, Richie gravitated toward gospel music. He was also influenced by another tradition whose reach among African Americans is sometimes underestimated: Because it was the South, it was hard not to hear country music, he was quoted as saying in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul.

Joined Group at Tuskegee

Enrolling at Tuskegee himself, Richie joined forces with a group of other students he met at a talent show; the attraction for the others was that Richie owned a saxophone. Richie, for his own part, was successful in concealing the fact that he barely knew how to play it. A gifted musician who had taught himself to play the piano by ear, Richie made rapid strides as a performer and composer at Tuskegee. The group, first called the Mystics, became the Commodores after the word was picked at random out of a dictionary. Richie discarded his religious ambitions in favor of courses in economics and accounting that proved ideal training for a career in the financially cutthroat music business.

The Commodores struggled for a time, gaining fans across Alabama but losing all their equipment to van

At a Glance

Born Lionel B. Richie Jr., on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, Alabama; son of Lionel Richie Sr., a systems analyst, and Alberta Richie, an educator; married Brenda Harvey, a musical production assistant, 1975 (divorced); one daughter, Nicole; married, Diane Alexander, a clothing designer, 1996; one son, Miles, and one daughter, Sofia. Education: Graduated from Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL, 1974.

Career: Vocalist and songwriter. Joined group the Commodores while in college; group signed to Motown Records, early 1970s; released debut recording Machine Gun, 1974; recorded platinum-selling ballad Three Times a Lady, 1978; numerous other hits with Commodores, 1970s; began solo production work and composition for other artists, late 1970s; released solo debut album on Motown, Lionel Richie, 1982; four top-selling solo albums for Motown; co-composed and recorded We Are the World African famine relief recording, 1985; released Louder than Words album on Mercury label, 1996; released Time album, 1998.

Selected awards Three platinum albums; four gold albums; 18 Grammy nominations and four awards; 12 American Music Awards; five Peoples Choice Awards for Best Song; numerous other industry awards; Academy Award, Say You, Say Me, 1986; honorary doctorate, Tuskegee University, 1986.

Addresses: Publicist Rogers & Cowan, 475 Park Ave., 32nd floor, New York, NY 10016.

thieves on a 1969 trip to New York. But they bounced back, landing a series of club appearances and signing on with a manager, Benny Ashburn, who would stay with them until his death during Richies years of solo stardom. Signing briefly to the Atlantic record label they went nowhere, but when they attracted the attention of Motown Records executive Suzanne de Passe in 1971, they gained wide exposure when she slated them as the opening act for many of the tours of that labels family-act dynamo, the Jackson Five.

Grouped Moved Toward Ballads

The heavy funk sound of the Commodores did not fit the polished, smoothed Motown mold, however, and the groups first record for the label, Machine Gun, was not released until 1974. That album and successors performed solidly, and the group broke through to the pop Top Ten with the ballad Sweet Love in 1976. That song, a Richie composition, also marked a new direction musically for the group. Although earlier singles such as 1975s Slippery When Wet had been primarily dance-oriented, the group came to believe that the secret to long-lasting success lay in the cultivation of romantic balladry. Sweet Love proved only the first of a series of romantic numbers from Richies pen: Just to Be Close to You and Easy rose into the pop Top Ten.

Most successful of all was 1978s Three Times a Lady, whose waltz tempo perhaps showed the influence of the country music Richie had heard as a young man. That song, a feature of weddings for years to come, achieved platinum status for sales of one million copies, as did the album, Natural High, from which it was taken. The song propelled the Commodores and the increasingly dominant Richie to national stardom. The Commodores enjoyed a string of hits between 1978 and 1981, and no ill will arose between the group members. But Richie found himself in demand for his own creative talents alone. He wrote and produced Lady for pop superstar Kenny Rogers in 1980, and followed it up with Endless Love, a duet he recorded with Diana Ross. These songs remained atop the U.S. pop charts for six and nine weeks respectively.

Whether recorded with the Commodores, by other artists, or on his own, Richies ballads were instantly identifiable. Simple and seemingly inevitable in their gentle progressions, they noted Richies considerable craft as a songwriter. Richie played to his strengths on his debut solo album, Lionel Richie, which was released in 1982. Its hit singles Truly and You Are closely followed the style of the Commodores chart successes.

Composed We Are The World

Richies second and third solo albums, 1983s Cant Slow Down and 1986s Dancing on the Ceiling, broadened his reach. All Night Long, the lead single from Cant Slow Down, was an upbeat, tropical-flavored dance piece that resembled none of the leading R&B, disco, and funk dance styles of the time. These albums were among the biggest successes of the 1980s, and Cant Slow Down was claimed to be the best-selling release in the history of the Motown label. Gaining Richie even more acclaim and publicity than any of his solo efforts, though, was the all-star recording We Are the World, which he co-composed with fellow pop superstar Michael Jackson and recorded with an all-star lineup of artists. Profits from sales and performances of the song went toward African famine relief.

By the late 1980s, Richie had few worlds left to conquer. He continued to enter into collaborative efforts, winning an Academy Award for Best Song and notching yet another Number One single for the song Say You, Say Me from the film White Nights. He tapped the country vein yet again in a recording he composed for and performed with the country group Alabama, Deep River Woman. In 1992 Richie released the Back to Front greatest-hits package; it included Do It to Me, a new song that once again topped the charts. Richie moved to the Mercury label in the 1990s, releasing the modestly successful Louder Than Words (1996) and Time (1998); these discs largely avoided any updating of Richies sound with contemporary hip-hop influences. In the year 2000 Richie raised his profile somewhat when he appeared as the opening act on the farewell tour of soul superstar Tina Turner, and planned a new release, Renaissance, that featured the teen-oriented Backstreet Boys.

Selected discography

Lionel Richie, Motown, 1982.

Cant Slow Down, Motown, 1983.

Dancing on the Ceiling, Motown, 1986.

Back to Front, Motown, 1992.

Louder than Words, Mercury, 1996.

Time, Mercury, 1998.

Renaissance, 2000.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 2, Gale, 1990.

Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, April 21, 2000, p. 75.

Jet, August 30, 1999, p. 32.

James M. Manheim

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