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Soulful crooner to unveil a one-man poet show
Ooh Baby, Baby- Whether you are a baby boomer, a generation x’er, or a tweener, you are bound to have been caught up in the quiet storm that is Smokey Robinson.
We often associate Robinson with the group of soulful crooners known as The Miracles, serenading audiences all over the world. We remember them dancing in identical suits, executing calculated yet smooth on-stage moves. Soft and warm, Smokey Robinson is still that quiet storm he sang about in the 70’s, only now the storm has changed its course, sailing into our lives in a way you may not have imagined. Robinson has two upcoming shows for Los Angelinos this month, one of which features him not singing or dancing, but reciting original poetry.
“For the first time ever I’m doing two nights of me just saying my poetry,” Robinson beams. “I write poetry all the time, I have been [writing poems] all of my life.”
Given that Robinson has wooed us with his lyrics for decades, it should come as no surprise that he also writes great poetry. His first event, “Words”, is a one-man show featuring six of Robinson’s self authored poems. The show will run on two dates, September 21stand 22nd, and will be featured at the El Portal Theater in North Hollywood. Through his poems, which are inspired by Robinson’s personal life and shaped by American history, theater patrons are given access to Smokey Robinson the person, creating an enhanced image of Smokey Robinson the music legend. Often feeling more or less constrained by the structure that comes with songwriting, Robinson suggests that poetry gives an artist more freedom.
“A song has to have some uniformity” says Robinson. “Something that familiarizes people with it because you’re trying to sell it…but poetry is freedom and you can write however and whatever you want”.
“Words” is not the only Smokey Robinson attraction for Los Angelinos this month. He will also be headlining a benefit concert for Pastor Frank and P. Bunny Wilson of New Dawn and Christian Village Church. Pastor Frank, a long time friend of Robinson, was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago, in addition to an undiagnosed illness 16 years ago, which affects his mobility and speech. The proceeds from the concert will go towards Wilson’s medical costs. The event will be held at Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles on September 29.
The Interview: Smokey Robinson Spoke with the Sentinel’s Chelsea Battle and Brandon I. Brooks.
SENTINEL: I looked up the origin of your name, Smokey, and unless it means something else, I saw that your uncle gave you that nickname, and he was giving it to you so that you would constantly remember that you were a Black man because you are fair skinned. Is that true?
Smokey Robinson (SR) My uncle Claude was my favorite uncle he was also my godfather. He and I were really, really close. He used to take me to see cowboy movies all the time when I was a little boy because I loved cowboy movies. He got a cowboy name for me,which was Smokey Joe. So from the time I was 3 years old if people asked me what my name was I didn’t tell them my name was William, I told them my name was Smokey Joe. That’s what everyone called me until I was about 12 and then I dropped the Joe part. I’ve heard that story about him giving it to me because I’m a light skinned Black man but that’s not true.
SENTINEL: Tell me where you are originally from and tell us a little bit about how you started your songwriting career.
SR: I was born in Detroit, and Detroit is the birthplace for Motwon and Barry Gordy lived in Detroit and started Motown there. I was very blessed to get the chance to meet with him, before he started Motown. He is my best friend even today. I wrote my first song that anyone had ever heard when I was 6 years old, I was in a play in the 1st grade.
SENTINEL: Who would you say has been one of the most memorable artists that you have worked with that really sticks close to your heart?
SR: That’s tough because growing up in Motown we were all brothers and sisters. I loved working with all of them. If I had to choose one it would probably be between The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. Marvin was probably one of the best singers that I’ve ever heard in my life. Marvin was always late and it got to the point with me where if I was going to have my session I would tell him my session was going to start at 7:00 when it was really going to start at 8:30 so he would be on time but he would still be late. The Temptations were the same way. I’d be working on a song with them and I’ve never shown The Temptations a background vocal in my life. They were awesome.
SENTINEL: What was your relationship with Michael Jackson like? You obviously were very influential with him and he shared that in an interview. What can you tell us about him?
SR: Michael Jackson was a phenomenon. I’ve seen everybody and when it comes down to the overall picture who could sing dance do the whole thing— He is number 1 in my book. From the time I first saw him when he was 10, he was singing and dancing like he was 30. He was amazing and he stayed amazing forever. He’s had the greatest influence on today’s music world than anybody ever in the history of music.
SENTINEL: Rihanna or Beyonce?
SR: Well I’m not going make a comparison between Rihanna and Beyonce because they are two different entities they are like apples and oranges. Rihanna is Rihanna and she does what she does and she does it well. Rihanna is not quite as technical a performer as Beyonce. Beyonce is awesome but she’s Beyonce and Rihanna is awesome but she’s Rihanna.