Luke Bryan’s abiding admiration of Lionel Richie has come full circle in 2017, a year that began with the two of them jamming on the Commodores’ “Oh No” and later saw both men signing on as judges for the upcoming American Idol reboot. In early December, Bryan reaffirmed his fandom by singing a pair of Richie’s songs at the Kennedy Center Honors, where the pop-R&B star was among the entertainers being honored. The special premiered Tuesday night on CBS.
Bryan’s performance was a simple two-song medley of Richie’s hits beginning with the easygoing “Penny Lover,” which Bryan previously sang as part of a multi-artist tribute to Richie at the 2016 Grammy Awards. A single from the Grammy-winning 1984 blockbuster album Can’t Slow Down, “Penny Lover” let Bryan show off his vibrato and won some enthusiastic reactions from Richie as well as fellow honoree LL Cool J. The second part of Bryan’s performance looked a little further back in time, with the Commodores’ 1979 hit “Sail On.”
In addition to Richie and LL Cool J, other honorees for the night included singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, TV icon Norman Lear and dancer-choreographer Carmen de Lavallade. Originally held on December 3rd, the event was filmed for a television special that aired on CBS on December 26th.
Richie had a brush with the country mainstream on the 2012 album Tuskegee, singing his beloved hits with a variety of country stars and scoring one of the year’s biggest-selling country releases in the process. Surprisingly, Bryan did not appear on that album, but the two later performed together on the 2013 CMT Artists of the Year special.
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Both Richie and Bryan had major successes in 2017. In September, Richie wrapped up his All the Hits Tour with Mariah Carey and in October was named as the producer of a forthcoming Curtis Mayfield biopic. For his part, Bryan remained one of country’s dominant forces, releasing his sixth album What Makes You Country in early December.