Lenny Kravitz kicked off the proceedings inside with a rousing cover of “Running With the Night.” Then host Jimmy Kimmel set the comedic tone as he strode onstage in a V-necked white jumpsuit and large Afro wig, referencing Richie’s early start with the Commodores. “Lionel had a dream,” Kimmel told a star-studded audience that included Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Sharon Stone, Gayle King, Rita Wilson, David Crosby, Paul Anka and politician Nancy Pelosi. “And we’re going to live that dream all night long.”
Over the next three hours, everyone did just that. Chris Stapleton turned in a riveting interpretation of “Lady,” while Rihanna won rapt attention with a moving cover of “Say You Say Me.” Additional favorites that had the audience singing along and dancing in the aisles: Usher (“Lady [You Bring Me Up”]), John Legend (“Easy”), a medley of hits including “Brick House” featuring the Roots, Pharrell and others, Stevie Wonder (“Three Times a Lady”) and Yolanda Adams (“Jesus Is Love”). The evening’s biggest surprise: rocker Dave Grohl nailing “You Are.”
Lionel Richie Shares Hilarious Tale of Writing 'We Are the World' With Michael Jackson
Integrated throughout the program were various video clips dating back to the Commodores’ 1974 hit “Machine Gun” and moving forward to “We Are the World.” Watching the latter from an aisle offstage, Kimmel was overheard saying, “This is the best part,” prior to Huey Lewis singing the refrain, then noted that Cyndi Lauper “kills it” during her part of the song.
Friend Kevin Spacey presented the award to Richie, who movingly thanked his family as well as Motown and the Commodores (“Thank God for the Commodores because without the Commodores I would not be Lionel Richie. They are still my brothers”). On going solo, he recalled, “The saying was ‘Lionel Richie crossed over and can’t get black.’
“Today I’m standing here celebrating all the songs they told me would ruin my career,” he continued to hearty applause. “But the most important part of this evening is that we’re not celebrating me. We’re celebrating your generosity. We are our brother’s keeper. If you have anything in this world to give, give it all because you take nothing with you.”
With additional reporting by Melinda Newman.