Lionel Richie, 2022 Gershwin Prize Honoree: A Quick Look

Lionel Richie, the Alabama-born songwriter with a smooth voice and a deft touch for the romantic ballad, is the 2022 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song honoree.

Richie, 72, has sold more than 125 million albums, co-wrote one of the biggest singles in history, won an Oscar and, after a career that started in the late ’60s, is still a star of network television, as a judge on ABC’s “American Idol.” He wrote No. 1 songs for 11 consecutive years, was a star with the Commodores, on his own, and as a mellow voice on any number of hit duets.

“In so many ways, this national honor was made for Lionel Richie, whose music has entertained and inspired us — and helped strengthen our global connections,” said Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress. “Richie’s unforgettable work has shown us that music can bring us together. Even when we face problems and disagree on issues, songs can show us what we have in common.”

“This is truly an honor of a lifetime, and I am so grateful,” Richie said. “I am proud to be joining all the other previous artists, who I also admire and am a fan of their music.”

“Endless Love,” one of his biggest duets, was the eponymous hit from the 1981 film, which he memorably sang with Diana Ross. The song was No. 1 on Billboard charts for more than two months. His “Say You, Say Me,” a No. 1 hit from the 1985 film “White Nights,” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

But as anyone who had FM radio knows, there were plenty more. “Three Times a Lady,” “Still,” and “Easy,” all with the Commodores. Then, a flurry of solo hits: “All Night Long.” “Hello.” “Penny Lover.” “Dancing on the Ceiling.” “Truly.” He wrote “Lady” for country artist Kenny Rogers in 1980. It became the one of biggest songs in Rogers’ career. Richie  recorded it on his own later in the decade, and it was a hit again.

But it was another cooperative effort, this one with Michael Jackson, that turned into a massive international hit for charity. Richie and Jackson wrote “We Are the World,” for USA for Africa, a fundraising effort to address a devastating famine in northeast Africa, principally Ethiopia. Along with Harry Belafonte, they recruited a cast of all-star talent to perform it, including Ross, Rogers, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Dionne Warwick, the Pointer Sisters and so on. It sold more than 20 million copies and raised more than $63 million.

Bestowed in recognition of the legendary songwriting team of George and Ira Gershwin, the Gershwin Prize recognizes a living musical artist’s lifetime achievement in promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of entertainment, information, inspiration and cultural understanding. The honoree is selected by the Librarian — in consultation with a board of scholars, producers, performers, songwriters and other music specialists. Previous recipients are Nelson, Simon, Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel,  Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, and Garth Brooks.

Richie will receive the Gershwin Prize at an all-star tribute in Washington, D.C., on March 9. PBS stations will broadcast the concert — “Lionel Richie: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” — at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, May 17, and on PBS.org and the PBS Video App as part of the co-produced Emmy Award-winning music series. It will also be broadcast to U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world via the American Forces Network.

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