Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr. (born June 20, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and actor. Beginning in 1968, he was a member of the musical group Commodores signed to Motown Records. Richie made his solo debut in 1982 with the album Lionel Richie and the number-one hit “Truly”. He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time
Lionel Brockman Richie, Jr. was born and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, the son of Alberta R. (Foster) and Lionel Brockman Richie, Sr. He grew up on the campus of Tuskegee Institute.
Richie 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 becoming a priest with 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 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 he had begun to accept songwriting commissions from other artists. He composed “Lady” for Kenny Rogers, which hit #1 in 1980, and produced Rogers’s 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 UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and US pop music charts, and became one of Motown’s biggest hits (in the US it sold 2 million copies and became a platinum single record). 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. His debut album, Lionel Richie, produced another chart-topping single, “Truly”, which continued the style of his ballads with the Commodores.
On October 18, 1975, Richie married his college sweetheart, Brenda Harvey. In 1983 the couple informally adopted Nicole Camille Escovedo, the two-year-old daughter of one of the members of Lionel’s band. They raised her as their daughter, Nicole Richie, and adopted her legally when she was nine years old.
In 1986, while still married to Harvey, Lionel began a relationship with Diane Alexander. He would later separate from Harvey and, in 1988, she allegedly discovered Richie and Alexander together in a Beverly Hills hotel room by saying she was “room service” and breaking in the door. A confrontation ensued and Harvey attacked both Richie and Alexander brutally. Harvey was arrested for spousal abuse, trespassing, assault towards Alexander, and vandalism. Richie and Harvey divorced on August 9, 1993, after being married nearly 18 years. Richie married Diane Alexander on December 21, 1995. They have a son, Miles Brockman (born May 27, 1994), and a daughter, Sofia (born August 24, 1998). Richie and Alexander divorced in January 2004.
Richie became a grandfather on January 11, 2008, when Nicole Richie gave birth to a baby girl, Harlow Winter Kate Richie Madden, with the lead singer of Good Charlotte, Joel Madden. Richie’s second grandchild, Sparrow James Midnight Madden, was born to the couple on September 9, 2009.
On March 4, 2011, Richie appeared on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?. The program did research into Lionel Richie’s genealogy and found out that his great-grandfather (the father of his mother’s mother) was the national leader of an early African-American fraternal organization.
Breast cancer activist
Richie helped to raise over $3.1 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He was the featured performer at the Foundation’s Soirée Bouquet, the annual spring gala, in 2003.
Richie told the crowd that his grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 80s, but survived and lived until she was 103 years old. He stated that she was his enduring symbol of hope and his reason for becoming a breast cancer activist.
- Lionel Richie (1982)
- Can’t Slow Down (1983)
- Dancing on the Ceiling (1986)
- Back to Front (1992) (Compilation album with three new songs)
- Louder Than Words (1996)
- Time (1998)
- Renaissance (2000)
- Just for You (2004)
- Coming Home (2006)
- Just Go (2009)
- Tuskegee (2012)
- 1977: Scott Joplin (w/ The Commodores)
- 1978: Thank God It’s Friday (w/ The Commodores)
- 1990: Running with the Night
- 1991: Truth or Dare (documentary)
- 1996: The Preacher’s Wife
- 1998: Pariah
- 2007: The Simpsons (episode He Loves to Fly and He D’ohs)
- 2011: Who Do You Think You Are?
- 2011: Lionel Richie: Dancing On the Ceiling (Part of the BBC Four documentary series, Black Music Legends of the 1980s)
Awards and Honors
Richie has won four 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 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 film White Nights. This song also won the Oscar for Best Original Song.