Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr., on June 20, 1949, in Tuskegee, Alabama
As a child, Richie had numerous family ties linking him to the Tuskegee Institute, a higher-learning centerpiece of the black community. Although his family relocated to Illinois for a while, Richie returned to the school for his college years, during which he began to play with an assortment of R&B bands on and around campus. By 1968 he was lead singer and saxophone player for the Commodores, one such band that would achieve stardom as a '70s act.
A Balancing Act - the Commodores:
With funky hits like "Brick House" and the instrumental "Machine Gun," the Commodores, along with Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang, helped define '70s soul and R&B. However, as Richie increasingly took the reins of the band's direction, his tendency toward soft rock love songs both smoothed the band's edges and clearly claimed responsibility for much of its success. This dichotomy meant that Richie's days in the band were clearly numbered by the late '70s. He had expansive solo seas to sail on, after all.
Lionel Richie's Solo Stardom - 1981 to 1987:
With the Commodores, Richie had begun to forge the template of his '80s sound on hits like "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady." But he continued to deepen his music's commercial appeal, ultimately removing almost all traces of urban and soul sounds from his formula for "Truly," "Hello," and "Say You, Say Me." Still, aside from a few non-ballad, somewhat embarrassing missteps (that still managed to become huge hits) like "Dancing on the Ceiling," Richie ruled the pop charts for more than half the decade.
Decline & Hiatus:
Following 1986's Dancing on the Ceiling, Richie's stock among pop music fans began to drop significantly, as his years away from dance music and soul really showed when he tried to speed things up. Partly because of a sense that tastes were changing and partly because he needed a break from the recording industry, Richie took nearly a decade off from music, reemerging in 1996 with a sound that tried, with mixed results, to introduce newer styles such as hip-hop into his formula.
Lionel Richie Facts:
- Richie was a star tennis player during high school in Illinois and attended Tuskegee Institute on a scholarship for the sport.
- In 1984, Richie and his first wife, Brenda, took in the three-year-old daughter of music colleagues and raised her as their own. They didn’t know then, of course, that she would grow up to be Nicole Richie reality TV star and frequent tabloid subject.
- During his heyday, Richie enjoyed a remarkable run of 13 consecutive Top Ten pop hits, including five number ones.