Legendary singer: ‘Everything means more to me now’

Robinson, a COVID survivor, resumes recording, touring

Singer Smokey Robinson attends the 28th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party.

Legendary singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson isn’t wasting any time after recovering from his 11 days of intensive care hospital treatment for COVID-19 last December.

“Everything means more to me now,” said Robinson, who turned 81 on Feb. 19.

True to his word, the 2002 National Medal of the Arts recipient and 1987 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee is making every minute count.

Now in the script-writing phase of a feature film about his storied life, he is back on the road for the first time since early last year. His 2021 summer tour includes a Saturday concert at the San Diego Symphony’s new $85 million concert venue, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.

Robinson continues to write new songs on a regular basis, more than five decades after such Robinson-penned hits as “The Tracks of My Tears,” “My Girl” and “Ooh Baby Baby” became an indelible part of the American musical landscape. He is currently completing two new albums — one in English, one in Spanish.

“They are both contemporary, but they are totally different,” Robinson said, speaking from his Los Angeles home. “For about the past eight years or so, I’ve been learning Spanish.”

Quadruple threat at Motown

Robinson was a quadruple threat at Motown. Equally gifted as a songwriter, singer, arranger and band leader, he covered all the bases with skill and poise.

His supple falsetto voice, sweet yet strong, became a trademark for The Miracles and for his subsequent solo career. His lyrical eloquence as a songwriter prompted an admiring Bob Dylan to hail Robinson as “our greatest living poet.”

“It’s a wonderful feeling to have such a great writer as Bob say that,” Robinson said. “I first met him when his girlfriend and I were going to the same acting class. He came to pick her up one time and that’s when I met him. Bob and I are brothers.” 

Robinson was born in Detroit on Feb. 19, 1940. He grew up a few houses away from the slightly younger Aretha Franklin, whom he befriended when she was 5 and he was 7. An actor portraying Robinson in his late teens appears briefly in “Respect,” the new Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson.

“Aretha was precocious, outgoing, singing her ass off, and playing piano like she was 60 when she was still a kid,” he recalled. “It was incredible.”

Robinson was 11 when he co- founded The Five Chimes, which soon became The Matadors before morphing into The Miracles. His musical talent was readily apparent, even then.

But not long after graduating from high school, he enrolled in college with the goal of earning a degree in electrical engineering. How seriously did Robinson regard engineering?

“I was very serious about it,” he said. “Because, where I grew up, I didn’t think music would come to anything or ever really be my life. I wanted it to be, but I grew up in the ‘hood. I never thought I’d meet (Motown mastermind) Berry Gordy, and I met him even before he started Motown. 

“Berry started to mentor me the day I met him. He became The Miracles’ manager a few years later, and then he started Motown.”

And now?

“I want to make progress for my whole life, and I’m still learning stuff,” Robinson said.

“Life is like that, especially if you are observing things and not oblivious. I write all the time, melodies or lyrics, almost every day. And I’m probably the only person in the world who still has two cassette recorders!”

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