Lionel Richie Honors Kenny Rogers With Grammys Performance of 'Lady'

Lionel Richie paid tribute to his late friend Kenny Rogers during the 2021 Grammy Awards on Sunday night, taking the stage to perform a rendition of Rogers' hit "Lady," which Richie originally wrote for the country pop star. The American Idol judge took the stage in a black shirt and pants with a long black jacket to perform, ending the song with a message to Rogers, who died in March 2020.

"I miss you, Kenny," he said. "I miss you, man." As Richie sang, a photo of Rogers was displayed on the screen behind him, reading, "Kenny Rogers, country/pop superstar." Richie's performance was part of the show's "In Memoriam" segment, which also featured a tribute to Little Richard by Bruno Mars and a performance by Brandi Carlile honoring John Prine, as well as a video honoring the members of the music industry who died this past year.

"When I wrote 'Lady' for @_kennyrogers, little did I know it would be the start of a friendship that would last a lifetime," Richie wrote on Instagram after his performance, posting a pair of photos of himself and Rogers. "Singing this song at the #Grammys tonight, without Kenny there, was incredibly hard. I miss you man." The singer's daughter Sofia Richie commented, "Love you daddy. I felt ur hear[t] tonight, I'm sure Kenny did too." "Incredible song , amazing performance, a perfect tribute to your dear friend," added Debbie Gibson.

"Lady" became one of Rogers' biggest hits after the late star released the song in 1980, going to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Richie later cut the song for his 1998 album, Time. In 2012, the two artists recorded the song together for Richie's Tuskegee.

"I had written 'Lady' for the Commodores, and they didn't want it," RIchie told PEOPLE. "'Kenny wants to have the song,' they told me." He added, "When 'Lady' came out, it was an explosion onto the music scene." "It was a mutual admiration society," Richie said of his friendship with Rogers, calling the duo the "oddest of odd couples. Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, whatever you want to call it. That was us."

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The pair formed a friendship that lasted for decades, with Richie considering Rogers a mentor for his own career. "Kenny had the ability to just laugh through absolute disaster," Richie reflected. "He made everything in my life, up until his death, just an enjoyable ride, man. Kenny was all about love."