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Lionel Richie
Legends like this man come around but once in a lifetime. His ability to write music that transcends time. Apart from the distinction of having penned a #1 single for nine consecutive years - he’s got Grammies under his belt, an Oscar for Best Original Song, seventeen number one singles, and over 110 million records in sales, including one of the best-selling singles in history - We Are The World. There’s no slowing him down – and his music makes you want to listen to him all night long. The man is Lionel Richie.

Born on the 20 June 1949 in Tuskegee, Alabama, USA - as a child, Richie was exposed to many different kinds of music, particularly by his grandmother. She taught him to play the piano. Even then, Richie showed signs of the talent, though his grandmother did not then appreciate this fact.

Richie’s initial goal was to become an Episcopal priest. He brought with him a saxophone that an uncle had given him as a child, though he did not know how to play it, but he thought it would help him meet girls. Regardless, it helped Richie meet five other Tuskegee freshmen who were forming a musical group and sought him out because they heard he had a saxophone. Apparently, Richie's lack of prowess on the instrument proved no obstacle, and Richie quickly became part of their club. While Richie and the group practiced, he also gave up his clerical ambitions in favor of an economics major and an accounting minor, which helped him in later business dealings. Richie eventually was made the lead singer of the group, and the band settled on the name The Commodores.

Atlantic Records signed them in 1968 the band for a one year record contract, before they eventually moved to Motown Records. The Commodores first gathered a following when they found the opportunity to open for the Jackson Five's concerts in the early 1970s. After a two-year search for the right producer and arranger, the band put out their first album. At first the Commodores gained a reputation for party and dance music with disco-oriented hits like Machine Gun, and the song responsible for the dance craze of the same name, Bump. Another popular single was Brickhouse being schooled as support act to the Jackson Five. But by the mid-1970s, most of the Commodores, including Richie, started to feel that funky dance tunes were too ephemeral. They wanted to move towards writing and recording ballads, which were more likely to be timeless.

Richie worked more intensely on his songwriting skills than previously. The Commodores' 1975 album Caught in the Act scored their first ballad hits, Sweet Love, and Just To Be Close To You. They followed with more slow songs, which gained popularity due to Richie's romantic lyrics and smooth singing voice. Easy, Three Times A Lady, Sail On and Still confirmed Richie and the Commodores' change of style. Lionel was established as the most prominent member of the group, and by the late 70s he had begun to accept songwriting commissions from other artists.

His big break was composing the Kenny Rogers' 1980 #1 Lady, and producing his album Share Your Love the following year. Also in 1981, Richie sang with Diana Ross on the theme song for the movie Endless Love. The track topped the charts, and became one of Motown's biggest hits to date. The success encouraged Richie to branch out into a fully-fledged solo career in 1982.

You can read the rest of our exclusive on Lionel Richie in the May 2004 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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