How many people in the world can boast that Bob Dylan said they were one the most prominent poets of the 20th century? How many can say they met The Beatles before they caught America by storm? How many can say they discovered Michael Jackson’s talent and knew he would be one of the greatest entertainers of our time when he was only 10 years old?
All of these distinctions belong to R&B legend Smokey Robinson, a true entertainer in every sense of the word.
On Monday night, the Grammy Museum hosted An Evening with Smokey Robinson. The museum’s intimate auditorium was full with enthusiastic music connoisseurs and diehard fans of the musical legend.
It is rare to see a crowd so simultaneously exalting, honoring and pleasing; even before Robinson graced the stage, the audience was rising to its feet and applauding. People were ecstatic about being in Robinson’s presence yet at the same time, listened attentively when he spoke.
Not one to suffer from stage fright, Robinson responded to each question asked with either a colorful anecdote or an insightful statement concerning his varied musical experiences. From his time as a singer in the Miracles to when he retired briefly as vice president of Motown, Robinson enchanted and amused everyone by illustrating one of music’s most interesting periods.
During the 1960s, America enjoyed one of music’s most interesting periods when music producer Berry Gordy started a small music label in Detroit called Motown Records. Soon enough, artists started to blossom and become what we now consider the foundation of soul music.
“In every place in the world there is the same amount of talent, ratio-wise,” Robinson said. “It was just that, in Detroit, we had Berry to capture it.”
Growing up in “the hood” — as Robinson referred to it — and being a part of Motown Record’s first major musical act, Robinson befriended Motown heavyweights such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and members of The Four Tops. While working as a producer for the label, Robinson had to face the decision to temporarily reject The Temptations because they were too young; the only young artist Motown Records could take on was an up-and-coming Stevie Wonder. Robinson also became close to Marvin Gaye, who was not only his fellow artist, but his “brother brother.”
But those were just some of the bigger names to come from Detroit’s music scene of the time. Robinson highlighted the importance of receiving a break by acknowledging the musicians who never found the opportunity to shine — not because of their lack of talent, but because they were simply not at the right place at the right time.
When asked about Michael Jackson, Smokey said he saw this “little bundle of talent” when Jackson was still with the Jackson 5, and immediately knew Jackson was “something else.” Smokey also stressed the extreme psychological damage a young child experiences when he loses a parent, and said the media should stop scrutinizing the King of Pop’s children.
As a producer, VP, songwriter and artist, Robinson captured the essence of an innovative era of music that crossed genres and transcended racial segregation — and, at 69 years old, the R&B legend shows no sign of slowing down. Robinson’s newest album, Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, was just released this week. The title speaks to Robinson’s extensive career in the music industry, for even he cannont recall the exact number of albums he has had produced.
After the interview, Robinson delighted the audience with a live performance, which consisted of songs from his latest album as well as classics such as “The Tracks of My Tears.” Robinson enamored everyone present and truly proved that, by following the rules and etiquette of conventional show business, you can entertain the masses for a lifetime.