Last week, on Nov. 15, the two-day celebration of Smokey Robinson’s 50-year career—and his selection as the 2016 recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song—began in the nation’s capital with a touching trip down the keyboard of George Gershwin’s piano and ended with a rollicking concert of his greatest hits.
Robinson took his first tour of the Library of Congress’ historic Thomas Jefferson Building and viewed some rare and surprising items in the Library’s vast collections. Among them was Robinson’s first song ever submitted for copyright, “I Cry.” Registered in 1958, the song was co-written by Berry Gordy, who joined Robinson on a tour of the nation’s largest library.
During his visit, Robinson sat down at the Gershwin piano, housed in the Library’s ongoing exhibit, “Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin,” and talked about his work and the Gershwin legacy. “The Gershwins wrote music when the song was king,” the Grammy Award-winner told Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “For me to even be mentioned in the same breath with the Gershwins as a songwriter is just incredible.” Robinson tearfully recalled how Gordy mentored him and helped him achieve his dream of becoming a singer and songwriter.
The Gershwin Prize winner was also feted at a dinner of well-wishers and a group of the nation’s lawmakers, who recognized Robinson for his contributions to popular music. “Like the Gershwins, Smokey Robinson has left the American songbook much richer than it was before,” said Hayden about the iconic songwriter. “Their legacy endures and our songbook continues to be enriched by the ever-changing tapestry of the nation’s musical genius, uniting America with music and song.”
The concert will feature appearances by Aloe Blacc, Gallant, Berry Gordy, CeeLo Green, JoJo, Ledisi, Tegan Marie, Kip Moore, Corinne Bailey Rae, Esperanza Spalding, The Tenors and BeBe Winans. The honoree will also perform some of his favorite tunes. The host for the evening festivities will be actor Samuel L. Jackson.
During the evening’s event, Robinson will be presented with the prize by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, U. S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer, U.S. House of Representatives Chairman of the Committee on House Administration Candice S. Miller and U.S. House of Representatives Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress Gregg Harper.
The concert will air on PBS stations nationwide at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 10 (check local listings).
Smokey Robinson is considered one of music’s greatest living lyrical poets. An R&B icon whose career has spanned more than 50 years, Robinson 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), “Ooo 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).
In honor of the legendary songwriting team, the Gershwin Prize recognizes 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.