Lionel Richie gave an emotional speech Saturday night when he finally received the Person of the Year Award from MusiCares. (The evening raised the most ever for the Grammy foundation: over $7 million.)
The speech came after three hours of performances of Richie’s songs by an eclectic group that included Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Rihanna, Usher, Tori Kelly, Lenny Kravitz, Yolanda Adams, the Roots, Florence Welch and others.
Some were successful, some were not. In the audience, which was over a thousand strong: Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Suzanne dePasse, David Crosby, Joe Walsh, Olivia Harrison, Rita Wilson, Jimmy Jam Harris, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Gayle King, David Foster, Tom Joyner, plus politicians Nancy Pelosi, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, among others. Jimmy Kimmel hosted the show, dressed, for a while, in an Afro and white one piece jumper that emulated Richie’s costumes of the 1970s.
Not present: members of the Commodores, Richie’s old group, although he thanked them in his speech. Not mentioned: the manager who put him on the map, Ken Kragen, or singer Kenny Rogers, who gave Richie his first hit with “Lady.”
But Lionel spoke eloquently about his rise to fame, being discovered at Motown, learning from the best. and fighting the stigma of writing ballads when funk was in. “Thanks for helping me celebrate all the songs they told me would ruin my career,” he said.
John Legend scored the hit of the night playing “Easy” on a piano, with no affectation. It was absolutely lovely. Another high moment was Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, not known as a crooner, belting out “You Are” as a tribute to Richie. The heart in it won over the execution. Also impressive were Usher’s take on “Lady (You Build Me Up)” and Rihanna on “Say You Say Me.” Yolanda Adams killed on a gospel number, just wiped the floor with the whole place. God bless her.
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