Richie's own life began in Tuskegee, AL, growing up on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute, where most of his family had worked for two generations. In 1968, fellow students Milan Williams, Ronald LaPread, William King Jr., Thomas McClary and Walter "Clyde" Orange joined Richie (a lead singer and the group's saxophonist) to form a soul outfit they named The Commodores by randomly dropping a finger onto a dictionary page. Building a reputation as a hard funk party band, the group won an audition for the coveted opening slot for the 1971 Jackson 5 tour. Then, as Motown labelmates, the Commodores toured with the Jackson 5 for two-plus years before they released an album.
Their 1974 debut lit the fires with the instrumental "Machine Gun," which hit Top 40 pop/Top 10 R&B charts. As the group evolved, Richie became its main songwriter and when his ballads took center stage the Commodores achieved crossover pop stardom. Three platinum albums and an avalanche of hits followed--from the #1 pop/#1 R&B "Three Times A Lady" and "Still" to the Top 10 pop/#1 R&B "Just To Be Close To You" and "Easy." Other pop Top 10s were "Sweet Love," "Brick House," "Sail On," "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" and "Oh No." Hitting #1 R&B were "Slippery When Wet" and "Too Hot Ta Trot." By the time Richie exited the Commodores in 1982, they were Motown's best-selling male group.
In 1980, Richie wrote and produced Kenny Rogers' across-the-board #1 hit single "Lady." The next year, "Endless Love," his platinum duet with Diana Ross (from the film of the same name) topped the charts for nine weeks and became the most successful single in Motown history.
Lionel Richie's first self-titled solo album, featured his #1 hit "Truly" (originally intended for Barbra Streisand), the second single "You Are" was a top 10 hit on the Pop charts and the quadruple platinum Lionel Richie album reached #3 on the Billboard charts. His next album, Can't Slow Down soared even higher and has been awarded the rarified Diamond Award from the RIAA, representing sales of 10 million-plus copies. Can't Slow Down sat at #1 for two months and included two gold pop #1 singles, "Hello" and "All Night Long (All Night)," as well as the Top 10s songs "Penny Lover," "Stuck On You" and "Running With The Night."
After performing at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Richie performed and co-wrote (with Michael Jackson) the USA For Africa benefit single "We Are The World," which went #1 in 1985, quadruple platinum and raised millions of dollars for famine relief Later that year he was #1 with "Say You, Say Me" written for the film White Nights for which he won and Academy Award for " Best Original Song." That track also appeared on 1986's triple platinum Dancing On The Ceiling, again reaching #1 on the charts and boasting the Top 10 hits "Ballerina Girl," "Love Will Conquer All" and the title song. A favorite artist not only in pop and R&B and country categories in the 80's, Richie won ten American Music Awards, six People's Choice Awards and a Golden Globe Award.
After three solo albums, Richie decided to take some time off. "Part of it was I didn't know how to stop. Also, there was the fear factor. When someone said, 'Man, you can't beat that,' the motivation to keep on was the fear they might be right." This time, however, he finally did go on hiatus.