The founder of the best-known Black Church in the United States, and a founder of one of the most popular bands of the 1970s were both honored by the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, Feb. 3, in recognition of Black History Month.
Singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, a four-time Grammy-winner who enjoyed enormous career success with both the Commodores and as a solo act, received the “Living Legend” award.
Just as important, the ceremony on the south lawn at City Hall acknowledged Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen’s face now covers a U.S. Postage forever stamp, whose first day of issue was Tuesday in Philadelphia.
Born into slavery in 1760, Allen bought his freedom along with one of his brothers. He became a licensed Methodist preacher and in 1787 helped form the Free African Society, believed to be the first black mutual-aid society created by free black people.
Allen with a fellow pastor led a walkout in 1787 to protest segregated seating and is noted for a long list of civic and humanitarian deeds. He called for the abolition of slavery and helped slaves find refuge long before the Civil War, and he led black men to form a militia in the War of 1812. He is also noted for hauling salt to George Washington’s troops in Valley Forge and organizing black people to nurse the sick and bury the dead during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.
The stamp’s unveiling coincides with this year’s 200th anniversary of the founding of the AME Church and with the 256th anniversary of Allen’s birth on Feb. 14, 1760.
Up to now, too few have acknowledged the contributions of Allen, because historians after the Civil War more often wrote about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. But Allen also fought to end slavery through his work and preaching at the time of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
Allen’s effort to declare the AME Church independent from the Methodist Church was monumental and wasn’t without struggle to break away from the control of the white Methodist Church. His work would be the beginning for AME Church to grow across the country as a place of worship, and as a social center for the black community.
Today, the AME Church has become an important stop for notables and politicians who want to reach the African American community.
Richie, 66, first came to fame as a singer and saxophonist for the Commodores, whom he met while a student at Tuskegee University (now Tuskegee Institute) while a student there, and who as a group had their greatest success with Motown Records in the 1970s. He would go on to a solo career in the 1980s.
He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.Among his career awards are an Oscar for Best Song in 1986 and a Golden Globe, plus his four Grammy Awards.
“Of all the subjects I ever chose in my life to embrace, I chose the word love,” Richie said. “It’s the only subject that doesn’t go out of style.
“I don’t care if you’re high on the hill, or low in the valley, love is the answer to everything.”
Along with the outdoor ceremony, Richie was also honored inside the council chambers before the outdoor ceremony.
In the council chambers, Mayor Eric Garcetti described
the entertainer as someone who has not only distinguished himself through music, but also with his philanthropy, often done “when no one’s around, and no one’s looking.” Richie has been a long-time breast cancer activist, and helped to raise more $3.1 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Outdoors, L.A. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson (8th District) said of Richie that “I think that what we like most about this young man…is that he evolved to not only be a lead person in his band, he evolved to be a solo artist extraordinaire and in addition to that he has given America and the songs that we can touch and feel.”
Richie and the crowd also got to hear several of his popular songs like “Hello,” Easy,” and “Endless Love” performed by artists like alto saxophonist Mark Felton and singers Elaine Gibbs, Chante Moore and Eric Benet.
Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., who presented Richie with his award, noted that Richie has managed to diversify through “rock-and-roll, rhythm & blues, country music and pop music — all of it.”
Richie said it’s important for parents to support their children’s dreams.
He related a story of his father reacting with anger over his career path when he and his fellow Commodores bandmates announced, “We’re the black Beatles, dad, and we’re going to take over the world!”
Decades later, he said he became similarly agitated when his own daughter, Nicole, told him she would star in the reality show “The Simple Life” opposite Paris Hilton, in which “we’re going to play some spoiled rich girls from Beverly Hills and we’re going to spoof the rest of the world.”
“And I used the exact same words my dad used,” said Richie, who declined to repeat the evidently colorful language.
In both instances, he — and later his daughter — were able to come back a few years later to say, “I told you so,” Richie said.
“So following your kids’ desire, following your dream. I am a product of that,” he said.