Saturday, April 21, 2012

Influences: Lionel Richie

Who isn’t moved by the poetry of Lionel Richie songs? His soulful melodies echo warmly into the hearts of millions. Born in Tuskegee, Alabama, Richie grew up on the campus of Tuskegee Institute. His grandfather's house was across the street from the home of the president of the college. His family moved to Joliet, Illinois, where he graduated from Joliet Township High School, East Campus. A star tennis player in Joliet, he accepted a tennis scholarship to attend Tuskegee Institute, and graduated with a major in economics. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Tuskegee, Richie briefly attended graduate school at Auburn University. He is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

As a student in Tuskegee, Richie formed a succession of Rhythm and Blues groups in the mid-1960s. In 1968 he became a singer and saxophonist with the group Commodores. They signed a recording contract with Atlantic records in 1968 for one record before moving on to Motown records initially as a support act to The Jackson 5. The Commodores then became established as a popular soul group. Their first several albums had a danceable, funky sound, as in such tracks as "Machine Gun" and one of my favorites, "Brick House."

Over time, Richie wrote and sang more romantic, easy-listening ballads such as "Easy", "Three Times A Lady", "Still," and the tragic breakup ballad "Sail On." Which remains to this day my all time favorite Lionel Richie song.

As a singer and a performer, there is no denying his talents. As a songwriter, he is simply amazing. And the thing I love the most about him is how every time I see him on Television be it in concert, or simply doing an interview, he is always smiling.

By the late 1970s he had begun to accept songwriting commissions from other artists. He composed the song “Lady” for country singer, Kenny Rogers, which hit #1 in 1980, and produced Rogers's album ’Share Your Love’ the following year. Richie and Rogers maintained a strong friendship in later years. Latin jazz composer and salsa romantica pioneer La Palabra, enjoyed international success with his cover of "Lady," which was played at Latin dance clubs. Also in 1981 Richie sang the theme song for the film ’Endless Love’, a duet with the legendary Diana Ross. Issued as a single, the song topped the UK and US pop music charts, and became one of Motown's biggest hits. Its success encouraged Richie to branch out into a full-fledged solo career in 1982. He was replaced as lead singer for The Commodores by Skyler Jett in 1983. His debut album, simply titled, ‘Lionel Richie‘, produced another chart-topping single, "Truly," which continued the style of his ballads with the Commodores.

This debut solo album also produced two more top five hits for Lionel, “You Are” and “My Love”. His 1983 follow up album, ‘Can’t Slow down’, sold over twice as many albums as his solo self titled debut, which sold well over 4 million copies, and won two Grammy’s, including Album of the Year. This second album also included the number one hit song, “All Night long” a Caribbean-flavored dance number that was promoted by a colorful music video produced by former Monkee Michael Nesmith. In 1984, Richie performed “All Night Long” at the closing ceremony of the XXIII Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Several more Top 10 hits followed, the most successful of which was the ballad "Hello" (1984), a sentimental love song that showed how far Richie had moved from his R&B roots. Richie had three more Top Ten hits in 1984, "Stuck On You" (#3), "Running With The Night" (#7) and "Penny Lover" (#8). Now described by one critic as "the black Barry Manilow," in 1985 Richie wrote and performed a suitably soothing theme song, "Say You, Say Me," for the film White Nights, winning an Oscar for his efforts as well as reaching #1 on the U.S. charts and staying there for four weeks, making it the #1 song of 1985 according to Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 chart. He also collaborated with Michael Jackson on the charity single "We Are The World" by USA For Africa, another #1 hit.

In 1986, Richie released ’Dancing On The Ceiling,’ his last widely popular album.

Since then, his ever-more-relaxed schedule has kept his recording and live work to a minimum. He broke the silence in 1996 with ‘Louder Than Words,’ on which he resisted any change of style or the musical fashion-hopping of the past decade, sticking instead with his chosen path of well-crafted soul music, which in the intervening years has become known as contemporary R&B.

Richie's albums in the 1990s such as ’Louder Than Words’ and ‘Time’ failed to match the commercial success of his earlier work. Some of his recent albums, such as ‘Renaissance’ have returned to his older style and achieved success in Europe but only modest notice in the United States. Since 2004, he has produced a total of six Top 40 singles in the UK. On March 2011, Richie is to tour Australia next year and is scheduled to perform at several winery events in March 2011.

Richie married his college sweetheart, Brenda Harvey, on October 18, 1975. During their marriage, Lionel began a relationship with Diane Alexander in 1986. In 1988 while separated, Brenda allegedly discovered Richie and Alexander together in a Beverly Hills hotel room by saying she was "room service", and breaking in the door. A confrontation ensued and Brenda attacked both Richie and Diane brutally. Brenda was arrested for spousal abuse, trespassing, assault towards Alexander, and vandalism. Richie and Brenda divorced on August 9, 1993, after being married 17 years.

In 1983 Lionel Richie and his wife, Brenda, informally adopted Nicole Camille Escovedo, the two-year-old daughter of one of the members of Lionel's band. They raised her as their daughter, Nicole Richie, and adopted her legally when she was nine years old. Lionel Richie became a grandfather on January 11, 2008, when Nicole Richie gave birth to a baby girl, Harlow Winter Kate Richie Madden, with the lead singer of Good Charlotte, Joel Madden; and again when she gave birth to Sparrow James Midnight Madden on September 9, 2009.
Lionel Richie married Diane Alexander on December 21, 1995. They have a son, Miles Brockman (born May 27, 1994), and a daughter, Sofia (born August 24, 1998). Lionel and Diane Alexander divorced in January 2004.

A lot of people don’t realize that Lionel Richie used to write songs by jumping into one of his sports cars and driving aimlessly for hours.

Richie helped to raise over $3.1 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He was the featured performer at the Foundation's Soirée Bouquet, the annual spring gala.
Richie told the crowd that his grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 80s, but survived and lived until she was 103 years old. He stated that she was his enduring symbol of hope and his reason for becoming a breast cancer activist.

Even to this day, I continue to enjoy the beautiful music that Lionel Richie brought into this world. It’s hard to imagine any songwriter to not have been inspired by his songwriting. He resides in my personal collection of CD’s and just like Jell-O, there is always room for some Lionel Richie songs.


Source: Wikipedia -

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  1. First, there's the legendary Lionel Richie whose voice today is just as wonderful as it was in the beginning. Next, you have a group of country performers, some legends, some soon to be, who are just as successful in their own right. In the middle, you have a phenomenal Lionel Richie hit song. All together, this should have made for an exceptional collection. But the result was just ok. Much of it didn't mesh for me.

    Richie as always sounded great. As he should have. It's pretty darn hard to mess up your own songs. And for the most part, the country performers did well. The different vocal styles they brought to the table were good. I just didn't feel that their vocal styles necessarily worked with Richie's. Richie sounded like this was all old hat for him. His performances were easy and comfortable. But when the other performers came in, the resulting song sometimes sounded a bit chaotic.

  2. I agree UK.

    I don't think Lionel needs to do duets. He does just fine on his own.


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