Lionel Richie deserves to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

On the cover of his 1982 self-titled debut solo album, a wide-eyed Lionel Richie is shown staring intently at the camera, mustache and afro mullet intact, dressed in white slacks, a pink high-necked polo shirt and d a green crewneck sweater with the sleeves rolled up.

Although this look actually predicted Michael Mann’s palette miami vice, which would make its network debut two years later, it wasn’t, to say the least, very rock and roll. And yet, Richie is here, in 2022, among the 13 nominees for induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

How can this be? And is that blasphemy?

The answer to the second question, in a nutshell, is no.

Regarding the first question, it is important to consider the “Rock” Hall as a hall of fame for all musical genres. While the early classes – the Rock Hall inducted its first class in 1986, although the physical museum in Cleveland didn’t open to the public until 1995 – adhered quite closely to what most would rightly regard as “rock and roll” Hall eventually realized there were just so many influential ancestors of black R&B and truly deserved to enshrine simple rock bands. Induct (at best) average Caucasian acts like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Journey, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Yes while closing the door on more esteemed genre-defying acts – many of them included people of color – was not an enduring pattern.

Consequently, the tent has been cleverly extended to include the likes of Louis Armstrong, the Bee Gees, Carole King, Johnny Cash, Chicago, Jimmy Cliff, Miles Davis, Depeche Mode, Neil Diamond, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Madonna, Bob Marley, NWA, The Notorious BIG, Public Enemy, Roxy Music, Tupac, Donna Summer and Hank Williams.

But still: Lionel Richie? A man whose slick, gooey 80s ballads can at least be partially credited with influencing the jarring sonic backlash that became grunge?

It would be a tough bump to get over, were it not for the fact that others hadn’t done it before. Neil Diamond, Whitney Houston, the Bee Gees, Madonna, Chicago, Donna Summer and Depeche Mode are already at Rock Hall. In other words, there’s no credible reason to keep Lionel out.

It’s fair to wonder – as Joe Kwaczala recently did on his pleasantly geeky podcast with Kristen Studard, Who cares about Rock Hall? (I was the guest of this particular episode) — whether Rock Hall would have been better off naming Richie alongside his fellow Commodores rather than as a solo artist, a move that would mirror the way Richie’s ’80s ballad mate Peter Cetera did his entry with Chicago, his former breakaway band. But that ship has sailed (on) and distracts from the task at hand: assessing how Richie’s career compares to that of fellow 2022 A Tribe Called Quest nominees, Dolly Parton, Eminem, Judas Priest, Fela Kuti, Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, Kate Bush, Devo, the MC5, the Eurythmics and Carly Simon.

Among this group, Parton is perhaps the only shoo-in. Where was: the fairy godmother of country music retired from the raceproclaiming that she would like to do something worthwhile in the current rock genre before entering her Hall of Fame.

Of the remaining dozen, Richie has as solid a case as any. And, perhaps more importantly, it has unprecedented momentum. He was recently received the prestigious Gershwin Award at a star-studded gala in Washington, DC, after being named MusiCares Person of the Year in 2016 and receiving an honor from the Kennedy Center in 2017. Past Gershwin Award winners include Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Carole King , Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett and Gloria Estefan from Miami, whose Rock Hall discussion will have to wait another day.

Richie has a case as solid as any. And, perhaps more importantly, it has unprecedented momentum.

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In 2004, it was hard to envision such a renaissance – or Richiessance, if you will. Lionel could barely book a gig in the US but remained popular overseas (especially in Iraq) and was promoting a new album, Just for youwhen he took some time out of his not-so-busy schedule to chat on the phone with a longtime fan (me) who happened to be a writer for Miami New Times‘ sister newspaper of the time in Saint-Louis, Riverside Time.

Although his career wasn’t exactly at its peak, Richie’s confidence in his stature and striking ability remained impressive. Asked about a surprisingly faithful duet with Lenny Kravitz that appeared on the album, Richie said: “Did I expect Lenny to be Lenny? No. I expected Lenny to give me Lionel Richie.”

Our conversation turned to his “world dreams” of Dubai and whether friends are allowed to listen “Endless Love” in the dark. But when we discussed why, unlike some of his peers, he had failed to gain traction among today’s hipsters and trend setters, he replied, “I love artists who wake up one morning and say, “I must be considered an artist”. My litmus test is if I’m still here after 29 years – that’s the test I’ve already passed. I don’t need a post telling me I’m fine… Here’s my test: sales of records and box Office.”

Its success in this respect is unquestionable. Richi’s first three solo albums went multi-platinum, with 1983 Can’t slow down eventually selling over 20 million copies worldwide. He co-wrote the schmaltzy megahit “We Are the World” with Michael Jackson and sang the song’s opening lyrics. Five of his hits — “Endless Love,” “Truly,” “All Night Long (All Night),” “Hello,” and “Say You, Say Me” — topped Billboard‘s Hot 100 pop chart, along with countless other R&B, adult contemporary, and even country chart toppers (including “Lady,” which he wrote for Kenny Rogers and also topped the pop and adult contemporary charts).

Hailing from Alabam, Richie would leverage this connection to the country to return to the top of the album charts in 2012 with Tuskegee, a collection of his recast hits as a duet with country stars such as Nelson, Rogers, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw and Darius Rucker. The critical community, which had largely rejected Richie until then, embraced the release, and Richie boarded a career-ending rocket that would soon carry him to a judge’s chair alongside Katy Perry and Luke. Brian on american idol.

I’ve seen Richie perform live several times over the past 15 years. Unlike many of his peers – Daryl Hall, who can no longer hit the high notes, comes to mind – he’s as good now as he was in his prime. His energy level makes it nearly impossible to believe he’s 72 or that he won’t be with us one day.

The Rock Hall opened its doors not only to screaming electric guitarists and heavy metal drummers, but also to pop crafters and entertainers. And knowing that the door has opened wide enough, I hope Richie walks through it later this year. He deserves to do it as easily as Sunday morning.

The public has until April 29 to vote for the most deserving Rock Hall 2022 nominees via

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