Lionel Richie Recruits New Talent

Lionel Richie Visits KeyChange Vocalist
Karen Zhou

Lionel Richie came to Harvard to meet with Elizabeth Leimkuhler '15, who is a member of the a capella group KeyChange. Richie is starting a new reality singing show called "Duets," which will feature duet performances by amateur singers and professionals.

In December, Elizabeth K. Leimkuhler ’15 sang for Grammy Award-winning musical artist Lionel Richie. Come May, she might be singing a duet with him on national television.

When Richie visited Cambridge last semester to accept the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award from the Harvard Foundation, he was struck by Leimkuhler’s performance with her a capella group, Key Change.

Richie—along with “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles of the duo Sugarland, and R&B singer-songwriter Robin Thicke—will appear on the new ABC series “Duets,” which is slated to debut on May 24.

The show asks the artists to search for undiscovered singers across the country to serve as their protégés.

“It’s a new take on a music competition in that the amateurs actually perform with their mentors,” said Robert Deaton, executive producer of the new show.

At the end of the season, one of the newly unearthed talents will receive a Hollywood recording contract.

“We are actually here to discover someone,” said Richie, who traveled to Boston with Deaton and Charles Wachter, co-executive producer of “Duets,” to search for novice singers. “We are just on campus auditioning her and seeing if she is the right person for the ‘Duets’ show”.

The producers and Richie spent the day with Leimkuhler to record her singing duets with Richie in Sanders Theatre and film her walking around campus.

“She was so impressive that when [Richie] started this show, he remembered her voice,” said S. Allen Counter, the director of the Harvard Foundation. “This is a great opportunity for her, and we are very delighted about it.”

Leimkuhler learned a few weeks ago that her Key Change performance had made an impression on Richie. “He thought I did a great job, and he said he was looking forward to doing something else with me,” she said.

“This has always been a dream of mine, for something crazy like this to happen,” Leimkuhler added. “I had no idea that it would happen during my first year in college, so I’m super excited.”

Richie, though most renowned for his musical achievements, has also been involved in significant global humanitarian endeavors. Most notably, he co-wrote the song “We Are the World” with Michael Jackson in 1985 to raise funds for famine relief in Africa.

He was honored for that accomplishment and others at a ceremony hosted by the Harvard Foundation in December, and on his second trip to campus on Wednesday, he said he hoped to return again.

“I love the campus; I love the students; I love the whole thing,” Richie said. “I plan on making trips back here, and I am having a great time.”

—Staff writer Fatima N. Mirza can be reached at