MusiCares, the penultimate big-ticket gala leading up to the Grammy Awards, has always been about giving back. This year’s affair celebrating Lionel Richie raised more than $7 million for musicians in need — a record for the fundraiser that keeps upping the ante.
Those doubting Richie could top the money and attention heaped on last year’s honoree, Bob Dylan — whose closing speech, both reverential and vindictive, instantly qualified as legendary — must hand it to the singer-songwriter-producer-philanthropist for his deep bench of connections. As one presenter put it, “only Lionel Richie could bring out Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones.”
Gordy, of course, founded Motown, which signed Richie’s group the Commodores when the label was in its heyday. Jones produced “We Are the World,” which Richie co-wrote with Michael Jackson, which still stands as the Mt. Everest of charitable recording efforts. Perhaps too much time was spent Saturday night dwelling on that 1985 touchstone, which seemed to have attracted every single pop star of any consequence into the USA for Africa fold.
“Did we just see the entire ‘We Are the World’ video?” quipped emcee Jimmy Kimmel to those assembled in the cavernous West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center.
You know you’re among high rollers when somebody bids $50,000 to fly to Vegas to see Richie in concert (the man himself sweetened the pot by offering his private jet as transport), and another pays $350,000 to have Richie “in your house, at the grand piano, telling stories and singing those songs.”
Those songs have sold 100 million albums worldwide, which brings us back to the other thing that the MusiCares tribute is all about: upstarts paying tribute to their elders. Among those who dipped into the Richie songbook were Florence Welch, Ellie Goulding, Rihanna, Usher and Demi Lovato.
To underscore Richie’s Tuskegee, Ala., roots, not to mention his astounding range, a number of country acts also paid tribute, including the Band Perry, Little Big Town and solo sensation Chris Stapleton, a Grammy contender for album of the year.
Not everybody could make it. Smokey Robinson sent his regards via video. U2’s Bono provided an amusing clip mistaking Richie for the British director Guy Ritchie (I guess you had to be there). But Stevie Wonder was in the house, as was perennial MusiCares performer Dave Grohl. Fittingly, all those luminaries gathered onstage at evening’s end for a rousing rendition of Richie’s “All Night Long.” How could they not?
Next up on the Grammy weekend party list is Clive Davis’ annual night-before bash, set for Sunday night at the Beverly Hilton. Longtime manager-producer Irving Azoff is the honoree.