AKA Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr.
Birthplace: Tuskegee, AL
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer/Songwriter, Actor
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: All Night Long, former Commodore
One of the most stubborn barnacles to have attached itself to the hull of the big, dumb 80s pop music ocean liner, Lionel Richie spent the early part of his life on the campus of Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, where his grandfather had established the family a generation earlier. The son of a school principal and an Army systems analyst, Richie's initial career plan was to become an Episcopal priest; when the time came for him to attend the Institute himself, however, this plan was altered in favor of a major in Economics and a minor in Accounting. It was also during this period that he became active in music, toting around a saxophone that he was not quite able to play in the hopes that it would attract attention from the opposite sex. Instead, it attracted the attention of five of his male classmates -- and it was with these five individuals that Richie eventually formed The Commodores.
After working for several years to build up a regional following, the Commodores' first major exposure arrived in 1971 when the group was selected to be the opening act for The Jackson 5 -- a gig that lasted for more than two years. In time this association resulted in a contract with Motown Records, and after an extensive period of recording the band's debut release Machine Gun finally surfaced in 1974, its title single quickly finding its way into the top 10 of the R&B charts and the top 30 of the mainstream listings. The driving funk of their early output made their music a fixture on dancefloors everywhere, and the next several releases Caught in the Act (1975), Movin' On (1976), and Hot on the Tracks (1976) earned the band a substantial audience. During this period Richie also contributed his songwriting skills to other Motown projects, co-penning the track Happy People for The Temptations, with the full Commodores line-up serving as the backing band for an instrumental version of the song. A change in the band's career was initiated with their self-titled 1977 release, the two featured singles -- the heavy funk track Brickhouse and the pop-oriented ballad Easy -- characterizing the diverging directions in which Richie and the rest of the Commodores were moving. Richie's pop ballads (Three Times A Lady, Still, Sail On) became more prominent on subsequent releases, and gave the group their first #1 entries in the mainstream pop charts.
By the arrival of the 1980s, Richie had expanded his activities beyond the confines of the Commodores, writing and producing the sappy (and enormously successful) ballad Lady for pop-turned-country-turned-pop crooner Kenny Rogers. He then had his first major hit as a performer in his own right in 1981, when he recorded the theme to the teen flick Endless Love as a duet with Diana Ross. By the following year the singer had handed in his Commodore epaulets to focus on a solo career, releasing an eponymous debut and setting up camp back at the top of the pop charts with the singles My Love, Truly and You Are (the former two keeping well within the stylistic territory of Richie's slow-ballad successes with his former band). The already-substantial popularity of this first effort was surpassed with the release of his second album Can't Slow Down (1983) -- two of its singles (All Night Long (All Night) and Hello) achieving both #1 chart positions and extreme, seizure-inducing media oversaturation, and three others (Penny Lover, Stuck On You and Running With The Night) closely approaching these same circumstances.
Prompted by singer Harry Belafonte, in early 1985 Richie joined forces with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones to compose an American entry for the famine relief trend initiated by Bob Geldof's Band Aid project in 1984. Under the name USA for Africa, the single We Are The World enlisted the voices of 45 popular singers (Jackson and Richie amongst them) and reportedly raised around 50 million dollars for its cause. In 1986 Richie released his third solo album Dancing On The Ceiling, preceeded in late 1985 by the top single Say You, Say Me (originally featured in the Mikhail Baryshnikov/Gregory Hines film vehicle White Nights). An inevitable (albeit very slight) decline in sales and chart showing took place at this point in Richie's career, and he subsequently ceased any recorded output until 1992's "greatest hits" collection Back to Front. An attempt at a comeback was made in 1996 with Louder Than Words, some tracks of which integrated elements of hip-hop, rap, and "new jack swing"; the release was a reasonable commercial success (by any rational standards, at least), but of course failed even remotely to approach the popularity of his 80s material. This return to activity was continued into the next decade with the releases Time (1998), Renaissance (2001) and Just For You (2004), each album attempting to find methods of balancing his old hit-making formulas with contemporary musical trends; ultimately, however, his media attention would be eclipsed in the 00s by the exploits of his adopted daughter Nicole on the repugnant "reality" series The Simple Life.
Father: Lionel Richie, Sr.
Mother: Alberta (school principal)
Wife: Brenda Harvey (m. 1975, div. 1991)
Daughter: Nicole Richie (adopted, b. 21-Sep-1981)
Wife: Diana Alexander (m. 1995, div. 2004)
Son: Myles Brockman Richie (b. 1994)
University: MS Economics/BS Accounting, Tuskegee Institute
The Commodores Vocalist/Saxophonist (1967-81)
Afghanistan World Foundation Celebrity Committee
Obama for America
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Grammy 1982 for Truly (pop vocal)
Grammy 1984 (producer of the year, with James Anthony Carmichael)
Grammy 1984 for Can't Slow Down (album of the year)
Grammy 1985 for We Are The World) (song of the year, with Michael Jackson)
Songwriters Hall of Fame
Endorsement of Pepsi Walkers Crisps (2010)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Preacher's Wife (13-Dec-1996) · Britsloe
Live Aid (13-Jul-1985) · Himself
We Are the World (28-Jan-1985) · Himself
Scott Joplin (1977)
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