Brockman Richie, Jr. was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, to a family where education was high
on the agenda. Lionel's mother was an elementary teacher at Chambliss Children's House
school and his father a systems analyst for the army. Lionel practically grew up on the
campus of The Tuskegee Institute, where his grandfather worked in the business office and
his grandmother taught classical piano. Grandma Richie introduced Lionel to the piano and
he got his vocal training from singing in both the school- and church-choir. During his
formative years, Lionel was exposed to music in many varied forms; Gospel, Soul and
African music, but also to Country and Western, which he heard on Tuskegee's radio station
All these influences would later rub off on his work as a singer, musician and songwriter.
In 1965, his family moved to Joliet, Illinois.
At Joliet East High School, Lionel took clarinet and saxophone lessons, but becoming a
professional musician was not what the shy Lionel aspired for. He wanted to be a lawyer.
The Richie's moved back to Tuskegee in 1967 and Lionel began to study economy at The
Tuskegee Institute. There, in the registration line, he met Thomas McClary, the beginning
of something that would affect Lionel's lawyer-plans in a way he couldn't have imagined in
his wildest dreams.
After McClary and Richie recruited
William King from the marching band, a six-piece group known as The Mystics was formed.
When rivaling school-band The Jays disbanded, Milan Williams was taken on board and to
celebrate the event, The Mystics changed their name to The Commodores. This first edition
of The Commodores traveled to New York, where they in 1969 recorded a single called
"Keep On Dancing" on Atlantic Records. At this point, Lionel Richie played sax,
while bassist Michael Gilbert handled the lead vocals. When Gilbert -and two other
members- left and bass player Ronald La Pread and drummer/lead vocalist Walter Orange
joined, Lionel Richie was happy leaving the singing part to Orange. But a singing drummer
was not always a good focal point and Lionel was persuaded to sharing the leads with
"Clyde". The first record where Lionel was featured as the sole lead vocalist
was The Commodores' third Motown single "Are You Happy". Eventually, Lionel
would spend more time in front of the microphone than he'd be tooting his sax.
Lionel was one of The
Commodores' most busy song writers. His strength was ballads, often carrying a country and
pop influence, a quality which proved to be The Commodores' ticket to gaining mass appeal.
Among the tracks Lionel wrote, several were selected as singles. He penned "There's A
Song In My Heart", "Superman", "This Is Your Life", "Let's
Do It Right", "Sweet Love", "Just To Be Close To You",
"Easy", "Three Times A Lady", "Sail On", "Still",
"Jesus Is Love", "Oh No" and "Lucy".
Lionel and Thomas McClary
were musical soul mates and together they penned "Hold On", "Free",
"Girl, I Think The World About You", "High On Sunshine", "Come
Inside", "Funny Feelings", "Heaven Knows", "Won't You Come
Dance With Me", "Flying High", "Visions", "Midnight
Magic", "12:01 A.M.", "Got To Be Together" and "Wake Up
Lionel also wrote
"Fancy Dancer", "Zoom" and "Say Yeah" (with Ronald LaPread),
"I Like What You Do" (with Walter Orange), "I Feel Sanctified" (with
the group and Jeffrey Bowen) "You Don't Know That I Know", "Let's Get
Started", "Brick House" and "Too Hot Ta Trot" (with the group),
"Heroes" (with Darrell Jones from The Mean Machine) and "Why You Wanna Try
Me" (with David Cochrane from The Mean Machine).
In 1982, Lionel released
his first solo album and soon thereafter left the Commodores. Lionel had begun his journey
towards super stardom.