Smokey Robinson Gets High Honor

Smokey Robinson and wife Frances celebrate the singer's Ella Award presented by the Society of Singers./Photo/Dennis J. Freeman

It’s hard not to think about the contributing works of William “Smokey” Robinson when you think about the hit-making records machine called Motown. Besides Motown Founder Berry Gordy, it’s hard to imagine the name of an artist or songwriter more synonymous with the success of the Detroit-based record label that included a stable of talented stars, including Mary Wells, Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Robinson eventually outshined them all.                     

Whether it was recording memorable hits like “The Tracks of My Tears” or the “The Tears of a Clown” with his group, The Miracles, or writing chart topping songs like “My Guy” for Wells or “The Way You Do the Way You Do” for the mighty Temptations, Robinson established himself as the renaissance man within the music industry.

He was just getting started at Motown. Robinson has written over 1,000 songs and eventually found himself being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Recording and singing legendary hits such as “I Second That Emotion” and the ultimate thematic driving song, “Cruisin,” is just one part of Robinson’s wondrous legacy as a musician.

The Society of Singers recognized that as well and decided to honor Robinson recently with this year’s Ella Award at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Robinson, honored for his many achievements in music, is the 20th recipient of the Ella Award, which is dedicated to the memory of the great Ella Fitzgerald.

Berry Gordy, songwriter extraordinaire Diane Warren, music producer Richard Perry, actress Jane Fonda, music mogul Clive Davis, American Idol winner (2005) Carrie Underwood, jazz great Barbara Morrison, singer Natalie Cole and Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner, were among the many of Robinson’s friends that attended the gala event.

Receiving an award in honor of Fitzgerald, a woman he adores to this day, left Robinson flattered.

Motown Founder Berry Gordy comes out to honor Smokey Robinson at the 2011 Ella Award ceremony at the Beverly Hilton./Photo/Dennis J. Freeman

“It is one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had,” Robinson said. “I thought Ella Fitzgerald…she is one of the greatest singers who ever lived. Ella was an instrument. I was indoctrinated by Ella Fitzgerald’s music from the time I could hear when I was a baby. She’d be playing in my house all the time. I got to meet her when I was about twenty years old, and she always treated me like I was her son. I love her very much.”

Robinson said he is always astounded by the fact he’s honored for the thing he loves to do.

“I’m amazed. It’s almost ironic they give you awards for doing something that you absolutely love,” Robinson said. “I’m blessed. I’m living my wildest childhood dream. And I get awards for doing that? For being this blessed-it’s amazing.”

Robinson’s amazing accomplishments have left a large imprint on musical artists across all genres and social circles. Florence LaRue, lead singer of The 5th Dimension, is one of those individuals Robinson’s musical career has impacted. LaRue said Robinson has meant so much to the music industry that it’s hard for her to pinpoint whether songwriting or singing has been his greatest achievement.

Music producer Richard Perry and actress Jane Fonda show their love for Smokey Robinson by attending the 2011 Ella Award./Photo/Dennis J. Freeman

“Smokey has written so much wonderful music that brings back wonderful memories for everybody,” LaRue said. “One of things I like about Smokey’s music is that you can dance to it. One of the things I like about Smokey is that he is such a nice, humble human being. A lot of people that would have hits or success-they get a little uppity. Smokey is just a wonderful person. I like to see that. Our talents come from God. He’s also a Christian. I like that, too.”

Carrie Underwood, who worked with Robinson on the Michael Jackson tribute at the Grammy Awards, wanted to come out and support Robinson much the same way he did when he flew to Nashville, Tennessee to honor her. In her singing tribute to Robinson, Underwood chose to honor her friend with the classic, “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” one of her favorite songs.

“He came out to Nashville to honor me. It’s really nice to return the favor,” Underwood said. “He flew all the way out there for me and helped us out. To have somebody like that who is so well-respected to honor me, it was amazing. He is an amazing entertainer and has been a long time.  [But] more than anything, he is a nice guy. I’ve gotten to work with him in the past. He is so sweet. He is just a happy guy. You just want to be here to see a great guy to be honored.”

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