Dave Grohl, Stevie Wonder Sing Lionel Richie Hits at Joyous MusiCares Show
Lionel Richie heard a lot of different versions of himself on Saturday night in Los Angeles. He was honoree at the annual MusiCares Person of the Year dinner, where generations of artists — from Rihanna and Usher to Lenny Kravitz and Dave Grohl — reinterpreted decades of his work in multiple shades of pop, funk, folk, gospel and rock.
All the selections were rooted in the romantic songwriting that has made Richie among of the most successful artists of his generation, with 100 million records sold and four decades of trophies, including Grammys and an Oscar. In his speech at night’s end, Richie suggested a strong distinction between the craft he developed while recording for Motown and the digitized hitmaking of the moment.
“I came from an era when there were creative artists, not created artists,” he said. Richie thanked several in the crowd, including Motown founder Berry Gordy. “I want to thank Berry Gordy for never just saying thank you, but it was always about what’s coming next.”
The night was a fundraiser for MusiCares, which supports musicians in medical and financial need. Just ahead of the performances was a live auction with big-ticket items, including a private Lionel Richie concert in the bidder’s home that raised $325,000. The top bid on a private performance by the Alabama Shakes was $125,000.
Host Jimmy Kimmel turned up looking like Richie during his years in the Commodores, wearing a Seventies afro wig and a white fringed jacket, noting the singer’s many previous honors. “He has so many awards that this one he’s getting tonight goes right into the garbage,” Kimmel joked. “It’s going to be a fun night. It’s going to be a weird night.”
By weird, Kimmel might have meant the wildly disparate readings of Richie’s accessible, R&B-rooted tunes. Lenny Kravitz arrived in black leather and aviator shades to rock up “Running With the Night,” with longtime guitarist Craig Ross slashing beside him. Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch sang a folky reading of “Dancing on the Ceiling” to acoustic guitars, and country artist Chris Stapleton played an almost spooky acoustic version of “Lady” (written by Richie and first recorded by Kenny Rogers in 1980).
The Band Perry sang a less teary “Endless Love” on a slowly spinning stage at the center of the audience, their three voices in harmony as a seven-man band accompanied with pedal steel and acoustic guitars. It was faithful to the original, but with a country accent.
Some songs were unrecognizable beyond the original lyrics, but found interesting new territory, while others were more forced than inspired. The music tended to connect the deepest when in the hands of artists directly connected to the pop/R&B source, who reignited the tunes with contemporary spirit.
First among those were Usher and John Legend. Usher went big with a full band, dancing across the stage as he dove into the Commodores’ 1981 hit “Lady (You Bring Me Up).” Soon after, Legend stripped 1977’s “Easy” to its pop essence, sitting at a grand piano to deliver the heartfelt and emotionally resonant ballad, demonstrating why Richie’s originals connected so widely when first released.
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