Smokey Robinson was honored last Wednesday with a spectacular tribute concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The Motown legend is the 2016 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Robinson, whose music career encompasses over 50 years, contributed many songs to the American Songbook that are beloved and still enjoyed today: “My Guy,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Shop Around,” and many more.
Motown founder Berry Gordy was present last Wednesday night to deliver remarks. He said Robinson is “a great poet who expressed themes in extraordinary ways.” The poet himself sang three songs after receiving the Gershwin Prize: “My Girl,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” and “Being with You.” That silky falsetto was captivating from start to finish and shows why Robinson stands out as a singer, not just for his wonderful lyrics.
Robinson appeared deeply moved as he took the stage and addressed the crowd. “Having a dream that I could possibly be in show business and [then] stand here tonight is absolutely incredible,” he shared. To be honored with a prize bearing the Gershwin name was “beyond [his] wildest dreams.” Yet, it’s only fitting that such a prize was awarded to a man who heard the music of Gershwin and other greats in his childhood home in Detroit “all the time.”
“I’m glad to be here to celebrate each moment,” Samuel L. Jackson told the press minutes before taking the stage as the emcee for this event. The actor’s first memory of Robinson’s music was the track “Shop Around.” He characterized Robinson as “a true American miracle.” Jackson served as a highly entertaining host, especially when he went off-script and recommended “bipartisan karaoke” with Smokey Robinson songs as the solution to our problems.
Informative segments and interviews detailing the history of Robinson’s career were played that evening. The concert also included performances of his hits by singers Aloe Blacc, Gallant, CeeLo Green, JoJo, Ledisi, Tegan Marie, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, The Tenors, and BeBe Winans.
These musicians had nothing but praise for Robinson during their pre-concert session with the press. Moore, a country music singer-songwriter, was effusive in his appreciation of Robinson’s contributions. “I think everybody admires what he’s done so much because we’re all writers, artists, and musicians,” Moore said. “We’re all trying to come up with our own paths. Smokey is one of those guys that brought joy to so many households. You hope you can do as much, bring the joy and help them escape from whatever they’re feeling in their [lives].”
Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song will air on February 10, 2017 on PBS stations, kicking off a series of programs focused on Black History Month.