The country boy from Alabama is one of two Motown hitmakers who began their professional life in a group, and parlayed that into solo superstardom, worldwide. In Lionel Richie’s case, he has also composed some of the most popular songs of the past half-century. Little wonder he is among the recipients of the George & Ira Gershwin Lifetime Achievement Award.
- First Hit: “Truly”
- Biggest Hit: “All Night Long (All Night)”
- Top Album: Can’t Slow Down
- Career Highlight: Global sales of more than 50 million albums
- In early 1981, it becomes clear that Lionel Richie is sure to have a career beyond the Commodores. He is Grammy®-nominated as a songwriter and a producer for a hit record (“Lady” by country crossover star Kenny Rogers) which has nothing to do with the group. In 1982, it happens again: this time with his nominations in five Grammy® categories for the song, “Endless Love,” which he wrote, produced and sang as a duet (No. 1 for nine weeks) with Diana Ross.
- “I didn’t experience the impact the song had right away, because I was out on the road with the Commodores,” Lionel explains. “When I returned to Los Angeles, I was told, ‘Mr. Richie, this is what “Endless Love” had done.’ It was amazing.”
- By now, the musician – the son of an army captain and a schoolteacher – is in his thirties and has travelled some distance, literally and metaphorically, since June 20, 1949, when he was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. His solo career beckons, ten years after the Commodores joined Motown, and six years after the start of the group’s remarkable string of hit records and sellout concert tours.
- In early 1982, Lionel prepares to cut his first solo album, working with the Commodores’ longtime producer, James Anthony Carmichael. He calls it “a survey of all the music that I’ve done in the past.” Lionel Richie is released in September, as is the first single, “Truly.” The sensuous ballad is No. 1 by November and wins Lionel his first Grammy®. The album yields two more Top 5 singles, “You Are” and “My Love,” on which Kenny Rogers also sings.
- Lionel’s second album, Can’t Slow Down, is released in the fall of ’83, a few weeks before the calypso party energy of “All Night Long (All Night)” hits No. 1. Four more Top 10 singles follow, including “Hello” (another No. 1, which is also his first solo chart-topper in the UK) and “Stuck On You.”
- In September 1983, Lionel undertakes a 48-date world tour, including three weeks in Asia. On October 29, the mayor of his hometown, Tuskegee, proclaims it to be “Lionel Richie Day.” In the U.S., the tour includes sellout weeks at Radio City Music Hall in New York and the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.
- In the U.S. alone, Can’t Slow Down spends three years on the charts, with three weeks at No. 1, and sells more than 10 million copies. It takes Grammy® honors as Album of the Year. In August ’84, an estimated two billion people see Lionel sing “All Night Long (All Night)” at the televised closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
- Lionel continues to stretch his talent, penning a melancholy tribute to the late Marvin Gaye, “Missing You,” for Diana Ross, and co-writing – with Michael Jackson – USA For Africa’s uplifting fundraising anthem, “We Are The World.” His composition “Say You, Say Me” for the movie White Knights is a No. 1 smash, and earns as Oscar as Best Song.
- Dancing On The Ceiling is Lionel’s final studio album for Motown, a No. 1 success which brings total worldwide sales for his first three albums to more than 25 million. He joins Mercury Records, which in 2012 releases Tuskegee, an album of his many chartbusters remade with some of country music’s biggest stars. Among them are two Commodores hits, “Sail On” with Tim McGraw and “Easy” with Willie Nelson, as well as “Endless Love” with Shania Twain and “All Night Long (All Night)” with Jimmy Buffett.
- Lionel recalls advice once given to him by Frank Sinatra: “If you’re lucky enough in this business to have one hit record, and the fans ask you to play it over and over again, you’ve got yourself a career. And if you find yourself with more than one hit record, well, you’re the luckiest man on the planet.”