Lionel Brockman Richie Jr. (born June 20, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, actor and record producer. Beginning in 1968, Richie was a member of the funk and soul band the Commodores. The Commodores became established as a popular soul group; their first several albums had a danceable, funky sound, as in such tracks as “Machine Gun” and “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“.
Richie launched a solo career in 1982 and his 1982 debut solo album, Lionel Richie, contained three hit singles: the U.S. number-one song “Truly“, which continued the style of his ballads with the Commodores and launched his career as one of the most successful balladeers of the 1980s, and the top five hits “You Are” and “My Love“. The album hit No. 3 on the music charts and sold over 4 million copies. His 1983 follow-up album, Can’t Slow Down, sold over twice as many copies and won two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, propelling him into the first rank of international superstars. He also co-wrote the 1985 charity single “We Are the World” with Michael Jackson, which sold over 20 million copies.
Over the course of his musical career, Richie has sold over 90 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. He has won five Grammy Awards including Song of the Year in 1985 for “We Are the World” which he co-wrote with Michael Jackson, Album of the Year in 1984 for Can’t Slow Down, Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) in 1984 and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for Truly in 1982. Richie has also been nominated for two Golden Globe awards and won one. In 1982 he was nominated for Best Original Song for the film Endless Love. In 1986 he was nominated and won the award for Best Original Song for the song “Say You, Say Me“, featured in the film White Nights. The song also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 2016, Richie received the Songwriters Hall of Fame‘s highest honor, the Johnny Mercer Award.
Richie was born and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, the son of Lionel Brockman Richie Sr. and Alberta R. Foster He grew up on the campus of Tuskegee Institute. 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 dropped out of Tuskegee Institute after his sophomore year. Richie seriously considered studying divinity to become a priest in the Episcopal Church, but ultimately decided he was not “priest material” and decided to continue his musical career. He is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi, a national honor fraternity for band members, and an active life member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
As a student in Tuskegee, Richie formed a succession of R&B groups in the mid-1960s. In 1968, he became a singer and saxophonist with the 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 “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“.
By the late 1970s, Richie had begun to accept songwriting commissions from other artists. He composed “Lady” for Kenny Rogers, which hit No. 1 in 1980, and produced Rogers’ 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 Diana Ross. Issued as a single, the song topped the Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, New Zealand 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.
Richie’s 1982 debut solo album, Lionel Richie, contained three hit singles: the U.S. number-one song “Truly“, which continued the style of his ballads with the Commodores and launched his career as one of the most successful balladeers of the 1980s, and the top five hits “You Are” and “My Love“. The album hit No. 3 on the music charts and sold over 4 million copies. His 1983 follow-up album, Can’t Slow Down, sold over twice as many copies and won two Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, propelling him into the first rank of international superstars. The album contained the number-one hit “All Night Long” a Caribbean-flavored dance number that was promoted by a colorful music video produced by former MonkeeMichael 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), as well as writing & producing “Missing You” for former labelmate and duet partner Diana Ross (#10 Pop, #1 R&B). In 1985, Richie wrote and performed “Say You, Say Me” for the film White Nights.
The song won an Oscar for his efforts and reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts, staying there for four weeks, making it the number-two song of 1986 according to Billboard‘s Year-End Hot 100 chart, behind the charity single “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne and Friends. He also collaborated with Michael Jackson on the charity single “We Are the World” by USA for Africa, another number-one hit.
In 1986, Richie released Dancing on the Ceiling, his last widely popular album, which produced a run of five US and UK hits, “Say You, Say Me” (U.S. #1), “Dancing on the Ceiling” (U.S. #2), “Love Will Conquer All” (U.S. #9), “Ballerina Girl” (U.S. #7), and “Se La” (U.S. #20). He made his return to recording and performing following the release of his first greatest-hits collection, Back to Front, in 1992.
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.
- 80s Studio albums