Artist Project by Nichele Washington
Lionel Richie is an individual whose musical and artistic prowess has turned him into a household name. Wether singing, playing the saxophone, composing, or songwriting, this artist has earned the title of being one of the Black community’s most talented and multifaceted creators. Because of that, this artist project will focus on the influence, history, accomplishments, and professional career of Lionel Richie in order to create a well rounded summarization of who this trailblazing artist is.
Lionel Richie is currently father to Nicole Richie, Miles Brockman Richie, and Sofia Richie from previous marriages with both Brenda Harvey and Diane Alexander. However, Before he was a father and husband, Lionel Richie was a child with ambitions and serious talent.
On June 20th, 1949 Lionel Richie was born to Alberta R. Foster and Lionel Brockman Richie Sr. Having only one sister (Deborah Joyce Richie), the family of 4 lived in Tuskegee, Alabama virtually on Tuskegee Institute’s (now Tuskegee University’s) campus. With his mother being a school principal, his father being a systems analyst for the US Army, and his grandfather being a collaborator with Booker T. Washington, Lionel Richie was undoubtedly born into an economically stable family rich with intellect and skill. In fact, some of his earliest musical influences were his uncle (who was a band player and former musical arranger for Duke Ellington) and Adlaide Foster, his very own grandmother. When Richie was growing up, his grandmother not only taught him how to play the piano, but she also exposed him to the works of many classical composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven. And yet, despite this early emersion and interest in music, Richie later decided to attend Tuskegee Institute on a tennis scholarship with the hopes of becoming an Episcopal Priest.
This all changed with one lie and 4 Tuskegee freshmen.
Carrying a saxophone his uncle had gifted him as a child, Lionel Richie used the instrument not to play music, but to impress and meet young women. However, when word spread about his owning a saxophone, Richie found himself being approached by four young men—all Tuskegee freshmen. Assuming he could play the saxophone, these young men invited Richie to play for their newly formed band, The Mystics which would later merge with another local band, The Jays in order to form The Commodores. Not only did Richie agree to join, but he also learned to play the saxophone so well, it took his bandmates 2 years to realize he had no real, former training with the instrument. With Richie singing, playing the saxophone, and playing the keyboards, this group of six involving Milan Williams (Keyboards), William King (trumpet), Walter “Clyde” Orange (drums), Ronald LaPread (bass), and Thomas McClary (guitar), played all throughout Alabama in 1967 for local engagements such as proms and dances. By 1969, The Commodores were performing weekly for a nightclub in New York called ‘Small Paradise Nightclub’. However, things took a turn when (upon performing at a Black lawyers’ convention) the group was approached by Suzanne De Passe from Mowtown Records. Working with The Jackson 5, De Passe arranged for The Commodores to open a number of The Jackson 5’s concerts. It was during this time, that The Commodores signed a contract with Motown Records and began putting out popular songs like “Brickhouse” and “Bump” by the late 1970’s. The group became so well known, that they even began holding number one positions on the U.S. Billboard magazine Hot 100 and R&B hits.
In addition to the success of the group, Lionel Richie also began to branch out, creating wildly successful hits with singers like Diana Ross. By 1981 he had earned five Grammy nominations, an Academy Award nomination, an American Music Award, and a People’s Choice Award.
Professional Career Cont'd
In 1982, Lionel Richie officially departed from the commodores in order to focus more closely on his solo career. During this same year, Richie released his first solo album which sold over two million copies. His single ‘Truly’ from this album even charted at the top of Billboard Hits for two weeks. From this point forward, Lionel Richie began his journey towards individual stardom. Releasing more songs and working with more renowned artists, Lionel Richie and his songs quickly became household names. During this time period he also won numerous awards and recognitions (See section ‘Awards’). However, Lionel Richie’s fame was not confined to the border of the United States. In fact, in recent years, Richie performed in countries like Haiti, Morocco, Qatar, Dubai, Libya, the United Kingdom and more.
During his distinguished career and even presently, Lionel Richie has been the recipient of the following awards and recognitions…
See this link to read more about Richie’s Grammy nominations and wins.
Contemporaries and Influences
Lionel Richie has worked with and been influenced by some of the most well known national and international artists of his time including…
– The Jackson 5
– Michael Jackson
– Shania Twain
– Kenny Rogers
– Blake Shelton
– Willie Nelson
and numerous others. However, as mentioned earlier, some of the most influential figures in his musical life are those individuals within his own family such as his maternal grandmother and his uncle.
In addition to his musical work, Lionel Richie has also gone above and beyond to be socially involved with the situations of others around the world. Not only did he co-write the song “We are The World” with Michael Jackson, but this song was used to raise millions of dollars in order to provide famine relief to families in Ethiopia. He then re-recorded the song in order to financially help with the devastating effects of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. Richie also supports Breast Cancer Awareness via benefit concerts and more.
Lastly, Lionel Richie worked closely with singer, songwriter Shania Twain in order to help her regain her vocal abilities after she was bit by a tick and infected with Lyme’s Disease.
In Conclusion, Lionel Richie is an American artist who’s versatility has made him a pioneering force in the realm of music. Wether performing in a group with others or releasing solo songs, Lionel Richie has successfully set himself apart from the crowd. With his outstanding ability to sing, play several instruments, direct and more, Lionel Richie has become the man responsible for many of our favorite dance, cookout, and get together songs. When asked about this versatility, Richie states:
“I’m trying through my music to break the stereotype that says to satisfy Black people you have to play something funky. I’m broadening the base, trying to show that Black artists are capable of playing all kinds of music.”
“Biography.” Alabama Music Hall of Fame, https://www.alamhof.org/lionelrichie.
Edwards, Gavin. “’We Are the World’: A Minute-by-Minute Breakdown.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 9 Mar. 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/we-are-the-world-a-minute-by-minute-breakdown-54619/.
Key, Novelle. “Lionel Richie and the Commodores (1967- ) •.” •, 24 June 2021, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/groups-organizations-african-american-history/lionel-richie-and-commodores-1967/.
“Lionel Richie Reflects on His Career, Life, and New Album.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 10 May 2004, https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna4945790.
“Lionel Richie.” Encyclopedia of Alabama, http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2614.
“Lionel Richie.” Lionel Richie | Songwriters Hall of Fame, https://www.songhall.org/awards/winner/lionel_richie.
PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK FOR LIONEL RICHIE’S DETAILED DISCOGRAPHY