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Lionel Richie Takes a New Musical Direction With 'Tuskegee'

Mary Morningstar

Legendary singer Lionel Richie has spent the past five decades making timeless pop songs.  He takes a new musical direction with his latest album, “Tuskegee.”

Richie pays tribute to his Southern roots on his new duets album.  The album features 13 of his famous pop hits, this time performed with some of today’s biggest Country stars.  They include Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, as well as Country legends Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson.  Each was given the choice of what song they would cover and Lionel encouraged them to sing them as if they were their own.

The album is named after Richie’s hometown.  He describes what it was like growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama.

“It was probably just about as normal as life could be, except I was born and raised on a university campus," he said.  "More academics than there was hunting and fishing, but the good news was that it was 15 seconds from Country.  And when I say that, in that community, Country music was pop music on the radio and R&B music was just the standard form.  That music kept squeaking in the side door.  Between gospel music, Country music and R&B music, I was deeply influenced right there on that wonderful campus of Tuskegee.”

“Tuskegee” debuted at Number One on the Country Albums chart and at Number 2 on the Billboard 200.  First-week sales reached nearly 199,000 copies, making it Richie’s highest-charting album since 1986.

Promotion for “Tuskegee” included a stop at this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.  Several thousand people attended the show, and to Richie’s surprise, the new younger generation of music fans knew all the words to his songs.  That might not have been the case, had Richie listened to some of the ideas he was given for his latest project.

“I had lots of suggestions from people in the record business, my friends, ‘Lionel you should do a Gershwin album, a tribute to Gershwin.’ ‘Lionel, you should do a tribute to Cole Porter.’ ‘Lionel, you should do Nat King Cole’s catalog,’" he said.  "And, I kept thinking, ‘Why don’t I do Lionel Richie’s catalog?’  I only know how to be me.  Do I rap?  No, terrible.  Am I a Gospel singer?  Terrible.  I’m a Southern boy.  And, I went back and thought about it and I said, ‘What’s the place I haven’t been?  Country.  Where have all the songs gone?  Country.’  So, I’ll put it out there to see if I get any response.  The answer was everybody called.”

The first single from “Tuskegee” teams Richie with international superstar Shania Twain to sing a Country version of his 1981 Number One hit, “Endless Love.”

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