Saturday, April 13, 2024

Exclusive Video: Smokey Robinson: Swollen Vocals Chords Healed, Sings Acapella Song for Berry Gordy


Smokey Robinson is a gem. At Thursday night’s star studded Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner he toasted Motown founder Berry Gordy with an acapella song he wrote for the occasion– and this despite, he said, having just gotten over a case of swollen vocal chords. Here’s the exclusive video:

Smokey is one of my favorite people of all time, and famous for writing three minute hits.

But he can talk. And talk he did on Thursday night. Gordy was getting a lifetime achievement award for creating Motown, and cast members from “Motown: The Musical” were waiting in the wings to perform a bunch of Motown hits after finishing their evening performance across the street.

That didn’t daunt Smokey, who is startlingly poised on stage as a speaker (he used to host the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Awards with a of panache). He told, in painstaking detail, the story of how as a 16 year old he and the early Miracles– called the Matadors-auditioned songs for the legendary Jackie Wilson in Detroit.

“Instead of singing current songs, we sang five original ones that I wrote,” Smokey recalled. “He didn’t like any of them.”

After being rejected, Smokey saw a kid a couple of years older than himself hanging around. It was young Gordy, who’d written “Reet Petite” and other hits for Wilson. They struck up a conversation, and Gordy, Smokey says, looked over his songs, “He liked them, but he said, You know you have five or six songs in every one. A song has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. At the time, I was very good at rhyming. I could rhyme anything from an early age. So the first verse was all set up and rhymed well. The second had nothing to do with it. It was another song. But it was also rhymed up really well.”

The rest is history of course. Smokey went on to have dozens of hits, including Motown’s standard bearer, “My Girl.” And at least the story did have an end. But god bless Smokey. The guy running the Teleprompter kept sending him signals to wrap it up. But you don’t cut off Smokey Robinson.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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