All night long

Lionel Richie revels in singing with the Pops on the Fourth

Lionel Richie will join the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade for this year’s July Fourth fireworks program. Lionel Richie will join the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade for this year’s July Fourth fireworks program. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/File 2010)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / July 1, 2011

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“Arthur Fiedler,’’ says Lionel Richie, “was my man!’’

Apparently the former Commodore — and the man behind such ’80s hits as “All Night Long,’’ “Hello,’’ and “Dancing on the Ceiling’’ — and the beloved, longtime conductor of the Boston Pops crossed paths when, according to Richie, Fiedler recorded the Commodores hit “Three Times a Lady’’ with the Pops. “So,’’ says Richie with a chuckle on the phone from Los Angeles, “I’ve indirectly worked with the Boston Pops.’’

On Monday, the Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter will do so more directly when he takes the stage at the DCR Hatch Shell to perform as this year’s special guest for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.

A convivial Richie recalls meeting the maestro in New York City. “The meeting between the two of us was like the odd couple of life, right? I had more afro than afro and he had no afro at all and looking ever so sophisticated,’’ he says with another easy laugh. “He was such a wonderful guy, very quiet but he had a sense of humor.’’

Q. If Arthur Fiedler was your man, then you must be familiar with the Boston Pops Fourth of July tradition, of which you’re about to become a part.

A. I’m definitely familiar with it. It’s almost like a tradition where you get it, you see it, but you never think you’re ever going to do it.

Q. What is your normal Fourth of July tradition?

A. My Fourth of July tradition is just family. When you travel as much as we travel, anything you can do where you have an excuse to get the family together, you do it. But this was so special and being a part of that tradition was just perfect so I said to the family, “I’ll opt out of burning your food and I’ll see you the next day.’’ (Laughs)

Q. So what’s the biggest challenge of performing a show like this?

A. The challenge is, where normally I would use ears (in-ear monitors) to hear my vocals I don’t have to. I’m in front of the orchestra and this orchestra is like the orchestra of the world so I’m enjoying every note they hit. This is like a big, giant play period. There’s a little anxiety because I’ve never quite done it to this degree. I did it with Luciano Pavarotti in Modena [Italy] with an 80-piece orchestra, and that was high anxiety because I had a brand-new song that I had written that I was singing for him and with him for the first time in front of 50 or 60,000 people. Compared to that, I think after 240 years of doing “All Night Long,’’ I think I have that song down.

Q. You were there when the country-pop crossover thing was really getting started when Kenny Rogers had a hit with a song you wrote and produced for him called “Lady.’’ Recently you came full circle, singing your song “Endless Love’’ with Shania Twain on her reality show.

A. Country music is pop music today with new country [artists like] Rascal Flatts and Jennifer Nettles [of Sugarland]. I’d been a member of the Country Music Association for the last 30 years but I didn’t pull that trigger because I figured “I’ll stay in pop and R&B.’’ But the truth of the matter is I’ve been a member of country music since the early ’80s. I always tell people there’s a very thin line between country and R&B, between “take this job and shove it’’ and “oh baby don’t leave me.’’ The stories are the same and they’re real stories. This album that I’m doing right now is a duets album with all of the country artists singing my songs.

Q. When does that come out?

A. That’s coming out in October. It’s called “Tuskegee.’’ (For his Alabama hometown).

Q. Who’s singing on the album with you besides Shania?

A. We’ve got Jennifer Nettles, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, and Rascal Flatts, just to name a few. It’s going to be amazing.

Q. You know, Tim used to sing “Easy’’ in his live shows.

A. Can I tell you, I love when all these guys and ladies walked into the room to sing with me. I said, “What part are you going to sing?’’ And they said, “Your part!’’ (Laughs). It was just hilarious. And the second joke on this thing was when I asked, “Do you need a lyric sheet?’’ and they started laughing.

Q. You might need one.

A. Right, I might need one! Which I did, by the way. (Laughs) But it’s just such a great feeling to be this far into this music business and still discovering one new avenue. To say you’ve had a career in R&B, pop, and country, and of course classical, with Arthur Fiedler and Luciano Pavarotti, what else could you ask for? I’m enjoying the ride.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at