Richie honored his late friend at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards by performing the 1980 hit.
The performance brought three thoughts to mind: Rogers was one of the great ballad singers of his time, Richie writes great songs and it's got to be tough for even a veteran solo artist like Richie to pay tribute to a loved one on live TV.
When I wrote “Lady“ for @_KennyRogers, little did I know it would be the start of a friendship that would last a lifetime. Singing this song at the #Grammys tonight, without Kenny there, was incredibly hard.
I miss you man. pic.twitter.com/uohwLZbQwZ
— Lionel Richie (@LionelRichie) March 15, 2021
Rogers' '80s pivot to pop music continued in 1981 with the Richie-produced album Share Your Love. It featured another love song written by Richie, "The Good Life."
Richie, a Tuskegee, Alabama native, proved his greatness as a songwriter when his former band the Commodores found Billboard Hot 100 success in 1978 with one of its biggest hits, "Three Times a Lady."
The story behind "Lady" surfaced in an A&E Biography special about Rogers that aired shortly after his 2020 passing.
"I'm not used to pitching songs, but I had this song called, 'Baby,'" Richie says in the documentary (as quoted by Rolling Stone). "I land in Vegas (to meet with Rogers) and all I prepared is the first verse, the way I would normally do it for the Commodores."
After Richie played the first verse on an out-of-tune piano in a Las Vegas venue's dressing, Rogers began talking about his recent marriage to his fourth wife, Marianne Gordon.
"I married a lady, a real lady," Rogers said. "A country boy like me from Houston, Texas, what I am doing with a lady... she's got such taste, such class, such style and she's such a lady."
After inadvertently mapping out the missing second verse, Rogers asked a question that suddenly had just one logical answer: "Oh, by the way, what's the name of your song?"
"I said, 'Lady,'" Richie adds. "I'm no fool."
I'm your knight in shining armor and I love you
You have made me what I am, and
I am yours
There's so many ways I want to say I love you
Let me hold you in my arms forever more
You have gone and made me such a fool
And I'm so lost in your love
And oh, we belong together
Won't you believe in my song?
For so many years
I thought I'd never find you
You have come into my life and
Made me whole
Let me wake to see you each and every morning
Let me hear you whisper softly
In my ear
And in my eyes (In my eyes)
I see no one else but you (I see no one else but you)
There's no other love like our love
And, oh, girl I'll always want you near me
I've waited for you for so long
Your love's the only love I need
Oh, and beside me is where
I want you to be (I want you to be)
'Cause, my love
There's somethin' I want you to know
You're the love of my life
You're my lady