Smokey Robinson received the 8th Gershwin Prize at the Library of Congress in Washington, Tuesday, on Nov. 15, 2016.
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.
The Gershwin Prize honors 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.
“As a singer, songwriter, producer and record executive, Smokey Robinson is a musical legend,” said Acting Librarian of Congress David S. Mao. “His rich melodies are works of art—enduring, meaningful and powerful. And he is a master at crafting lyrics that speak to the heart and soul, expressing ordinary themes in an extraordinary way. It is that quality in his music that makes him one of the greatest poetic songwriters of our time.”
“It gives me such joy and gratitude to be included among the past recipients of this most prestigious songwriting award,” Robinson said.
The Grammy Award winner 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), “Ooh 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.
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”).
Born in Detroit in 1940, Robinson founded the Matadors in 1954 when he was in high school. Three years later the group added a female voice and became The Miracles. Berry Gordy’s first vocal group, The Miracles released the single “Shop Around” in 1960, which became Motown’s first million-selling hit.
Robinson’s collaboration with Gordy from day one of the Motown record label grew into a musical dynasty. Producer, talent scout and songwriter for Motown, Robinson also served as the label’s vice president for nearly three decades.
The Miracles was the preeminent R&B group in the 1960s through the early 1970s until Smokey retired from the group in 1972. He returned as a solo performer a year later and continued to create beloved popular classics. His 1975 album, “A Quiet Storm,” was critically acclaimed and in 1987 he won a Grammy for best R&B vocal performance for his single, “Just to See Her,” from his album, “One Heartbeat.”
His accomplishments are many. He has received the Grammy Living Legend Award, NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, the presidential National Medal of Arts Award and the BET Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
Information for this story was provided by the Library of Congress and Associated Press.