The Commodores were an American soul-funk band from Tuskegee, Ala., that released 11 studio albums and a live double-LP on Motown between 1974 and 1985, followed by a pair of titles on Polydor during the late 1980s.

Members: William King (trumpet, rhythm guitar, synthesizer), Milan Williams (keyboard, trombone, rhythm guitar, 1967-89), Lionel Richie (saxophone, piano, vocals, 1967-82), Thomas McClary (guitar, vocals, 1967-82), Jimmy Johnson (saxophone, 1967-69), Michael Gilbert (bass, vocals, 1967-69), Andre Callaghan (drums, 1967-69), James Ingram (vocals, 1967-69), Walter Orange (vocals, drums, keyboards, 1969-present), Ronald LaPread (bass, 1969-86), Sheldon Reynolds (guitar, vocals, 1982-87), Skyler Jett (vocals, 1983-84), J.D. Nicholas (vocals, keyboards, 1984-present)

The Commodores formed at Tuskegee University in 1968 when members from two student R&B bands, The Jays and The Mystics, merged into a six-piece. The original lineup included trumpeter William King and trombonist Milan Williams, who both doubled on guitar and keyboards, plus guitarist Thomas McClary and singer Lionel Richie, who also played piano and saxophone. They were initially fronted by one James Ingram (not the solo singer), who left early to serve in Vietnam. After several turnovers in the rhythm section, they were joined by drummer/singer Walter Orange and bassist Ronald LaPread. They selected their name at random from a dictionary.

After wining the school’s freshman talent contest, the Commodores played at college parties and held a weekend residency at Tuskegee’s Black Forest Inn. In 1969, they issued their first single, the brassy Stax-style “Keep On Dancing” (b/w the Farfisa-driven “Rise Up”), produced by Jerry Williams Jr. (aka Swamp Dogg) and released on Atlantic.

The Commodores were taken under the managerial wing of Benny Ashburn, who secured them work as an entertainment band on Martha’s Vineyard in 1971. They issued their next two singles, “The Zoo (The Human Zoo)” (b/w “I’m Looking For Love”) and “Don’t You Be Worried” (b/w “Determination”), the following year on MoWest, the west coast division of Motown. In 1973, they moved to Motown for their fourth single, “Are You Happy” (b/w “There’s a Song In My Heart”). The Richie-composed b-side, produced and arranged by Clayton Ivey and Tom Woodford, would appear on the band’s debut album.


  • Machine Gun (1974)
  • Caught in the Act (1975)
  • Movin’ On (1975)
  • Hot on the Tracks (1976)
  • Commodores (1977)
  • Commodores Live! (2LP, 1977)
  • Natural High (1978)
  • Midnight Magic (1979)
  • Heroes (1980)
  • In the Pocket (1981)
  • 13 (1983)
  • Uprising (1983, recorded late-1960s)
  • Nightshift (1985)
  • United (1986)
  • Rock Solid (1988)


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