Smokey Robinson receives Gershwin Prize

Free Press staff report | 11/24/2016, 10:50 a.m.
An emotional and humbled Smokey Robinson received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song last week at a ...
Singer-songwriter legend Smokey Robinson performs during the Nov. 16 gala in Washington during which he was honored with the 2016 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Photo courtesy of DAR Constitution Hall

An emotional and humbled Smokey Robinson received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song last week at a soul-stirring concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington.

Amid multiple standing ovations from an audience filled with political dignitaries, the Motown star reflected on his humble Detroit roots as he accepted the prestigious award Nov. 16 at an event celebrating his illustrious singing-songwriting career.

“This is such a wonderful, spectacular, incredible night in my life,” said Mr. Robinson, 76. “I’ve had many of them, and this is right at the top of the list.”

For many, the event was a lively relief to the past weeks of a contentious presidential election and its end result.

“If we’re going to bring the country together… we can start with the music of Smokey Robinson,” host Samuel L. Jackson quipped midway through the show.

“It’s like bipartisan karaoke over here,” said Mr. Jackson, who was chosen by Mr. Robinson to emcee the evening.

Many in the audience sang quietly or hummed along as artists spanning generations and genres took the stage to celebrate Mr. Robinson, whose songbook includes more than 4,000 songs.

On hand were Aloe Blacc, Gallant, Berry Gordy, CeeLo Green, JoJo, Ledisi, Tegan Marie, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, The Tenors and BeBe Winans.

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and outgoing U.S. Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan were among those on hand for the nearly two-hour ceremony.

Awarded annually by the Library of Congress, the Gershwin Prize has become one of the leading honors recognizing popular music songwriting. The award is named for the iconic musical brothers, Ira and George, who crafted a host of 20th century standards. Previous recipients have included Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Carole King, Billy Joel and Mr. Robinson’s Motown colleague Stevie Wonder.

Raised in a North End Detroit home where the Gershwins’ music was played alongside “gutbucket blues,” Mr. Robinson said he had dreamed since childhood of going into show business.

So “for me to stand up here tonight in that company is beyond my wildest dreams,” Mr. Robinson said.

The concert will air on PBS stations Feb. 10.