The two-day celebration of Smokey Robinson’s 50-year career—and his selection as the 2016 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song—began in the nation’s capital with a touching trip down the keyboard of George Gershwin’s piano and ended with a rollicking concert of his greatest hits.
On Nov. 15, Robinson took his first tour of the Library of Congress’ historic Thomas Jefferson Building and viewed some rare and surprising items in the Library’s vast collections. Among them was Robinson’s first song ever submitted for copyright, “I Cry.” Registered in 1958, the song was co-written by Berry Gordy, who joined Robinson on a tour of the nation’s largest library.
During his visit, Robinson sat down at the Gershwin piano, housed in the Library’s ongoing exhibit, “Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin,” and talked about his work and the Gershwin legacy. “The Gershwins wrote music when the song was king,” the Grammy Award-winner told Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “For me to even be mentioned in the same breath with the Gershwins as a songwriter is just incredible.” Robinson tearfully recalled how Gordy mentored him and helped him achieve his dream of becoming a singer and songwriter.
The Gershwin Prize winner was also feted at a dinner of well-wishers and a group of the nation’s lawmakers, who recognized Robinson for his contributions to popular music. “Like the Gershwins, Smokey Robinson has left the American songbook much richer than it was before,” said Hayden about the iconic songwriter. “Their legacy endures and our songbook continues to be enriched by the ever-changing tapestry of the nation’s musical genius, uniting America with music and song.”
In honor of the legendary songwriting team, the Gershwin Prize recognizes a living musical artist’s lifetime achievement in promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding, entertaining and informing audiences, and inspiring new generations. Previous recipients are Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel and Willie Nelson.
Robinson is a master at crafting lyrics that speak to the heart and tell the human experience through the power of music. A diverse group of the world’s pre-eminent performers is paying homage to Robinson’s extraordinary gifts as a performer and songwriter—showcasing some his most memorable songs—tonight at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
The concert will feature appearances by Aloe Blacc, Gallant, Berry Gordy, CeeLo Green, JoJo, Ledisi, Tegan Marie, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, The Tenors and BeBe Winans. The honoree will also perform some of his favorite tunes. The host for the evening festivities will be actor Samuel L. Jackson.
During the evening’s event, Robinson will be presented with the prize by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, U. S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, U.S. House of Representatives Chairman of the Committee on House Administration Candice S. Miller and U.S. House of Representatives Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress Gregg Harper.
The concert will air on PBS stations nationwide at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 10 (check local listings). The program also will be broadcast at a later date via the American Forces Network to U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world. “Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize” is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C., and Bounce, a division of AEG, and the Library of Congress. The executive producers of the program are Dalton Delan, Carla Hayden and Michael Strunsky.
Major funding for “Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers. Additional funding is provided by The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Fund and The Leonore S. Gershwin Trust for the benefit of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, AARP and the Library of Congress James Madison Council. Air transportation is provided by United Airlines.
Smokey Robinson is considered one of music’s greatest living lyrical poets. A rhythm and blues icon whose career has spanned more than 50 years, Robinson is considered the poet laureate of soul. His velvet falsetto and incomparable mastery of lyrical verse have created a tapestry of hits that have transcended generations and become a mainstay in American pop music. As a producer, record executive and visionary, Robinson helped lead a musical revolution called the Motown sound.
Robinson has released dozens of Top-40 hits and added more than 4,000 songs to his legacy songbook. His music reads like a playlist of Motown’s greatest hits—”Mickey’s Monkey” (1963), “Going to a Go-Go” (1966), “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (1963), “Ooo Baby Baby” (1965), “The Tracks of My Tears” (1965), “More Love” (1967), “I Second That Emotion” (1967), “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry” (1969), “The Tears of a Clown” (co-written with Stevie Wonder, 1970), “Cruisin’” (1979), “Being With You” (1981), “Just to See Her” and “One Heartbeat” (1987).
“The Tracks of My Tears” was named to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2007 as one of the nation’s culturally, historically or aesthetically significant sound recordings.
As a producer and songwriter, Robinson was the creative force behind many Motown classics. “My Girl,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” “My Guy,” “You Beat Me to the Punch” and “Don’t Mess with Bill” are among the many hit songs that Robinson wrote for other Motown artists. He has crafted lyrics for Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Brenda Holloway, The Marvelettes, The Temptations and many others. His music influenced The Beatles—who recorded Robinson and the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” in 1963—The Rolling Stones (“Going To A Go-Go”); Michael Jackson (“Who’s Loving You”) and The Supremes (“I Second That Emotion”).