The Commodores

In 1967, at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, six students decided to merge two local bands, The Mystics and The Jays. The new group consisted of Lionel Richie on keyboards, saxophone and vocals, Thomas McClary on guitar, William King on trumpet, Andre Callahan on drums, Michael Gilbert on bass and Milan Williams on keyboards. Legend has it that King tossed a dictionary in the air, and when it landed, pointed to a random word on the page it opened to. The Commodores were born. While they continued their studies the group began performing in Montgomery, Alabama and quickly gained an avid following. A turning point in the group's career came when they met Benjamin Ashburn, a street-wise marketing expert who signed on as their manager. Through careful planning and extensive road tours, the Commodores gained worldwide notoriety by touring in the New York and European Club Scene. In 1971 the Commodores auditioned for and later signed on as the opening act for The Jackson 5 European tour. They subsequently headlined in Japan and drew in 150,000 fans in four days in the Philippines, breaking the record The Beatles had set years before. In 1974 their first album, "Machine Gun", became the best-selling international album to date. The instrumental title track, written by Milan Williams, crossed over from the R&B charts to reach #22 on the Hot 100, giving the band their first hit single.

The Commodores were still in university when they released two more albums. "Caught In The Act" earned them the Bronze Prize at the Tokyo Music Festival and the single "Slippery When Wet" hit #19 on the Billboard Pop chart in mid-1975. The single "Sweet Love", from their third album "Moving On", became their first Top Ten hit when it went to #5 the following year. After their own successful tour they were asked by The Rolling Stones to open for them on a world-wide tour. Amazingly, the Commodores managed to continue their education by studying on the road and returning to take mid-terms and final exams. During the rest of the '70s, the Commodores turned out more hit records, including: "Just To Be Close To You" (#7 in 1976), "Easy" (#4 in 1977), "Brickhouse" (#5 in 1977), "Three Times a Lady" (#1 in 1978), "Sail On" (#4 in 1979), and "Still" (#1 in 1979). They performed to sold-out worldwide audiences, becoming the most successful Motown group ever. In 1977 they released a live double album "Commodores Live!", which topped out at #3 on the Billboard Hot 200. They also showed up in the movies in 1977, appearing with Donna Summer in the Disco movie, Thank God It's Friday.

In the eighties Lionel Richie began writing for other musical acts besides the Commodores. He wrote the ballad "Lady" for Kenny Rogers, which went to #1. He also wrote and recorded the duet, "Endless Love" with Diana Ross, written for the movie of the same name starring Brooke Shields. This single reached #1 and stayed there for nine weeks. After "Still" had topped the charts in 1979, confirming the Commodores as Motown's best-selling act, the group attempted to move into a more experimental blend of Funk and Rock on "Heroes" in 1980. The commercial failure of this venture and the success of Lionel Richie's duet with Diana Ross on "Endless Love", persuaded him to leave the group for a solo career.

In August, 1982, Richie had just recorded his first album, "Lionel Richie" when The Commodores manager Benny Ashburn died at the age of 54. The following month, Lionel Richie's first solo single, "Truly" was released, marking the end of his association with the Commodores. The single topped the U.S. charts for the first two weeks in November and was certified Gold on December 9th. "Truly" was followed by two more hits from the album, "You Are" (#4 in 1983) and "My Love" (#5 in 1983). His single "All Night Long", from this second album, "Can't Slow Down" hit #1 in America on November 12th, 1983. It stayed on the charts for five months, outselling "Endless Love" to become Motown's biggest selling worldwide single to that date. The album stayed on the charts for three years, selling over eight million copies and producing three more top singles "Hello" (#1 in 1984), "Stuck On You" (#3 in 1984) and "Penny Lover" (#8 in 1984. In 1984 the Commodores continued on after Thomas McClary also launched a solo career with an album for Motown. He was replaced by Englishman J.D. Nicholas, formerly a vocalist with Heatwave, and this combination was featured on the group's 1985 hit "Nightshift", an affecting tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson that successfully captured Gaye's shifting, rhythmic brand of Soul. The single reached the #3 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was named the Best R&B Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocal at the 28th Annual Grammy Awards. Later that year, the Commodores left Motown for Polydor, prompting Ronald LaPread to leave the band. Their new contract began promisingly with a major Soul chart hit, "Goin' To The Bank" (1986), but subsequent releases proved less successful.

Riding the on top of his wave of success, Lionel Richie was asked by Quincy Jones to co-write a song with Michael Jackson to help raise money for famine relief in Africa. After Michael and Lionel prepared for three days, the song "We Are The World" took only two hours to write. It became a worldwide number one single, with Richie, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Elton John, Kenny Rogers, Steve Perry, Bob Dylan, Daryl Hall, Bruce Springsteen and Cindy Lauper among the artists who are featured in the recording. Later in the year he collected a number of awards at the 12th annual music awards: Favorite Male Artist Pop/Rock; Favorite Male Artist Soul/R&B; Favorite Male Video Artist Pop/Rock; Favorite Male Video Artist Soul/R&B; Favorite Video Single Pop/Rock; Favorite Video Single Soul/R&B. He also made a presence at the Grammy Awards, winning Album of the Year for "Can't Slow Down" and tying for Producer of the Year. The song "Say You, Say Me", the theme of the movie White Nights, starring Gregory Hines and Mikhael Baryshnikov, hit number one on December 21st, 1985. With this hit, Lionel became the only songwriter in history to write nine #1 songs in nine consecutive years. "Say You, Say Me" also won Richie an Oscar for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 1986. Lionel's third album "Dancing on the Ceiling", released in 1986, sold over four-million albums by May 1987 and produced several hits, including: "Dancing on the Ceiling" (#1 in 1986), "Love Will Conquer All" (#9 in 1986), "Ballerina Girl" (#7 in 1987), and "Se La" (#20 in 1987). The Commodores meanwhile made an unexpected return to the U.K. chart in 1988 when "Easy" was used for a television commercial for the Halifax Building Society, and reached number 15.

The following three years were trying for Richie. His personal life took a tragic turn when he separated from his wife of seventeen years, his father passed away, and he developed polyps on his vocal cords. After two operations, his left vocal cord haemorrhaged in October of 1991. He subsequently took more time between projects for what was called "growth" and "introspection," which led to the creative ventures heard on 1992's "Back to Front", 1996's "Louder Than Words", 1998's "Time", 2001's "Renaissance", 2003's "Encore" and 2003's aptly titled "The Definitive Collection".

In 2004 Lionel was back in the musical spotlight again with "Just For You", his first studio album release in over three years. In support of the CD he toured France, England, Germany and the U.S. Later that year he appeared on the British motoring television series Top Gear in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment where he was interviewed by host Jeremy Clarkson. In November, 2005 Richie performed with Kenny Rogers on a CMT Crossroads special that gave an informative insight into their friendship both in and out of the music business. On May 7th, 2006 he performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, replacing Fats Domino, who had fallen ill. Richie released his eighth studio album entitled "Coming Home" on September 12th, 2006. It debuted at number six on the Billboard Hot 200, becoming his biggest hit LP since 1986's "Dancing on the Ceiling". It went on to sell over half a million units worldwide. The first single from the album, "I Call It Love" features his adopted daughter, Nicole Richie. The song shot to number one on Billboard's Urban Adult Contemporary chart, becoming his biggest hit in the U.S. in ten years. Nicole starred in the music video for the track. On December 9th of that same year Lionel hosted and performed live on the British television show An Audience with Lionel Richie. Two months later he performed "Hello" on the 49th Grammy Awards show. On November 25th, 2007 he made a surprise appearance on the Australian Idol grand finale, performing "All Night Long" at the Sydney Opera House.

On May 2nd, 2008 Lionel Richie was the 21st recipient of the George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Achievement Award at UCLA's annual Spring Sing. In accepting the award, Richie said: "Forget about surviving thirty-some-odd years in the music business, Lionel Richie survived twenty-seven years of Nicole Richie." On New Year's Eve Lionel performed in Times Square for the New Year's Eve celebration and ball drop and in May, 2009 he appeared on the season finale of American Idol with Danny Gokey. That Spring also brought a new album, "Just Go", which climbed to #24 on the Billboard 200 chart. On July 7th, 2009, Richie performed "Jesus is Love" at Michael Jackson's memorial service. May 30th, 2010 saw Lionel Richie appearing at the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington D.C., singing "Stuck on You" and "America the Beautiful". His family has a military background. Lionel returned to Australia in 2011 where he and guest artist Guy Sebastian toured the country and New Zealand with concert dates spread throughout the Spring. Richie and Sebastian re-recorded the 1983 single "All Night Long" to raise money for Australian and New Zealand flood and earthquake relief.

At one point, Lionel was quoted as saying that he would like to get the Commodores back together soon, "Or in the next ten years, no one will care." That event was made even more desirable after Richie made a triumphant appearance at England's Glastonbury Festival on June 28th, 2015, pushing the 2003 album "Lionel Richie & The Commodores: The Definitive Collection" to the top of the U.K. album chart. His plans for 2016 included a three show stint in Great Britain called All The Hits Live and a string of dates in South America. In February of that year Lionel was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year at a pre-Grammy event where some of music's biggest stars paid tribute to his music. In June, 2016 Richie was presented the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award by The Songwriters Hall Of Fame. During the ceremony Lionel quipped, "All the songs that I created were the songs that they told me would ruin my career." For the Summer of 2017 the 67-year-old singer was scheduled for a thirty-five date tour across America with Mariah Carey, but after undergoing knee surgery in late February, the tour was cut back to twenty-two shows. In September of that year, ABC announced that Richie would serve as a judge for the revival of their singing competition show, American Idol. On December 3, 2017 he was an honoree at the Kennedy Center's 40th annual national celebration of the arts.