Lionel Richie's visit to the Scenic City

Lionel Richie's visit to the Scenic City

February 2nd, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in News

Celebrities

Celebrities who will appear in season two of "Who Do You Think You Are":

Ashley Judd, actress

Tim McGraw, country singer and actor

Rosie O'Donnell, comedian and media personality

Gwyneth Paltrow, actress

Lionel Richie, singer-songwriter, musician and record producer

Vanessa Williams, recording artist and actress

Steve Buscemi, actor

Kim Cattrall, actress

When to Watch

To see Lionel Richie's visit to Chattanooga, watch "Who Do You Think You Are" at 8 p.m. March 4 on NBC. The network will air the eight-episode season Friday nights at 8.

One resident of Chattanooga's Pleasant Garden Cemetery may have a bit more soul than his neighbors.

That's what music legend Lionel Richie learned when he came to the Scenic City for an episode of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are," a program that helps celebrities find out more about their family history.

Richie's great-grandfather Lewis Brown is buried at Pleasant Garden near U.S. Highway 64 and, with the help of Chattanooga's LaFrederick Thirkill, who has been working to restore the cemetery for more than a decade, Richie got to visit the grave.

Thirkill said he sat down to talk about Brown with Richie, father of TV personality Nicole Richie, when the show was filmed in mid-December.

Richie, famous for such songs as "Hello," "All Night Long" and "Truly," was excited about his journey, Thirkill said, and happy to learn everything he could about Brown. The pharmacy worker and cemetery caretaker died in 1931.

"When you look over his [Brown's] life you see that he was a caretaker, period, by nature, with his work in the pharmacy," Thirkill said. He said he had seen a photo of Brown, and that Richie and his great-grandfather look quite a bit alike.

Thirkill, assistant principal of Apison Elementary School and a local musician, said meeting Richie was a thrill.

"He is the most amazing person. I just found him to be unbelievably down to earth," Thirkill said. "I was just amazed that he was so approachable and so nice. I'm most definitely a big fan. I sang lots of his songs at weddings."

Thirkill said he felt connected to Richie, and not just because both are musicians.

"We are both on a quest to continue to find our relatives," he said.

Both have been successful. Thirkill also found a great-grandfather in the cemetery.

"He was a giver. He was a blacksmith and he gave of himself endlessly in his community. He even made [leg] braces for children who were suffering from polio and gave them to them for free," he said. "It's just been a wonderful journey finding out information about him."

Show spokesman Akiva Griffith said Thirkill's experience is similar to those of Richie and other featured celebrities.

"For most of them, they're kind of driven by a certain fact they know about their family," he said.

For example, Griffith said, musician and actress Vanessa Williams started her search after her father died, and musician Tim McGraw started his when he got to know his estranged father, the late baseball great Tug McGraw.

The show, now entering its second season, airs Fridays at 8 p.m. The episode featuring Chattanooga and Richie is scheduled to air March 4.