Smokey Robinson: “Up Close & Personal” at Opera House

Smokey Robinson: “Up Close & Personal” at Opera House

Tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime Smokey Robinson holiday show at Telluride’s Sheridan Opera House on Tuesday, December 29, 8 p.m., $200, $500 and $1,000 (depending on location), are selling fast. And $1,000 ticket-holders get invited to a private meet- and-greet with Robinson on Wednesday, December 30. Tickets here or call 970-728-6363 x5.

Smokey poster copy

The company he helped build almost 60 years ago – which started in 1959 with an $800 loan from Berry Gordy’s family–  the powerhouse R & B label known as Motown, became a cultural icon.

His hits are legion and evergreen: “Shop Around,” “I Second That Emotion,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” to name just a few.

The man can still wrap his signature falsetto around the lyrics of smoldering pop ballads and pillow-talking soul tunes.

“My voice is naturally high. In high school, I sang second soprano. My falsetto is just the upper reaches of an instrument I have been playing my entire life,” he told me in a 2007 interview (the last time Smokey Robinson was in town).

At over 70 years old now, Smokey Robinson, the man Bob Dylan once described as “America’s greatest living poet,” is still, well, smoking hot.

And Smokey Robinson is finally back in town for his encore. The legendary singer/songwriter/producer returns to Telluride for a holiday concert at the historic Sheridan Opera House on Tuesday, December 29, 2015, 8 p.m. (doors, 7:30 p.m.), a highlight of the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Holiday Concert Series.

The Holiday Concert Series is a critical fundraiser for the Sheridan Arts Foundation, the nonprofit which owns, operates, and preserves the Sheridan Opera House, built in 1913.

The Sheridan Arts Foundation has produced several concerts with Robinson over the years, including at the Palm Theater in Telluride (2007) and at the Apollo Theater in New York, NY, but this is the first time Robinson will be performing on the Opera House stage.

“It’s such an honor for the Telluride community to have an icon like Smokey play such a small, historic theater,” said SAF executive director Ronnie Palamar. “We’ve formed a great relationship working with him at the Apollo Theater, which made it possible to bring someone of this caliber to a 230-seat venue. Even though our show is billed ‘Up Close and Personal,’ Smokey will be on stage with a full band. This concert could very well be the smallest venue he’s played in a decade.”

William Robinson was born February 19, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan, where he grew up in the poorest section of town:

“I did not realize how poor we were until I got out.”

Robinson has been interested in music as long as he can remember.

“As a child, I listened to just about everything from the great jazz singers to blues legends such as Muddy Waters and gospel acts such as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Whenever I had money in my pocket, I spent it on songbooks, not candy. I loved reading lyrics.” 

Robinson formed his first group, The Miracles, at age 12.

“In our part of town, you were in a group or a gang, sometimes both.”

The summer after he graduated high school, his group auditioned for Jackie Wilson’s manager:

“I had all Jackie’s records. A guy named Berry Gordy had written all the songs. Berry was at our audition, but he looked so young I thought he was just another hopeful waiting his turn. Instead of singing covers made popular by other artists, I did five original songs. Wilson’s manager passed on us because we sounded too much like the Platters, but Berry asked where I had gotten the music, and I told him I had written it. He let me know who he was. One year later we started Motown with The Miracles.” 

Motown’s early single of Robinson’s “Shop Around” became Motown’s first No. 1 hit on the R&B singles chart.

In the early days of the label, Robinson was involved in every part of the operation: writing, producing and making his own records, helping with promotion, and scouting young talent.

Among the up-and-coming talents he helped develop were Mary Wells and The Supremes. One of the hits he wrote and produced for Wells was “My Guy.”

Robinson was also responsible for the records that established the reputation of The Temptations. “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “My Girl” set that engine in motion.

Mary Wells, Brenda Holloway, Marvin Gaye also managed to touch the moon standing on Robinson’s shoulders.

“The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “You Beat Me to the Punch,” “Don’t Mess with Bill,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” and “My Guy” are more of the man’s songwriting triumphs.

But it was The Miracles that dominated the R&B scene throughout the 1960s and early ’70s and it was Robinson who penned the big hits for the group including “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Going to a Go-Go,” “More Love,” “Tears of a Clown” (co-written with Stevie Wonder), and “I Second That Emotion.”

John Lennon made countless remarks about Robinson’s influence on his music. The Beatles had recorded Robinson and The Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” in 1963; in 1982, another popular British group, The Rolling Stones, covered The Miracles’ hit “Going To A Go-Go.”

Robinson later turned to a solo career, but he continued his tradition of hit-making with “Just to See Her,” “Quiet Storm,” “Cruisin’,” and “Being with You,” among others.

And he remained vice-president of Motown records until the sale of the company, shaping the label’s success with Gordy, his friend and mentor. Following his tenure at Motown, Robin continued his impressive touring career and released several successful solo albums.

Truth is Smokey Robinson’s life reads like the American Dream – except for a struggle with cocaine, which the artist talks about in his autobiography, “Smokey.”

Over the course of his 50+-year career in music, Robinson accumulated more than 4,000 songs to his credit and he continues to thrill sold-out audiences around the world with his high tenor voice, impeccable timing, and profound sense of lyric. Never resting on his laurels, Smokey Robinson remains a beloved icon in our musical heritage.

In an interview we did with Robinson’s Motown crony Chuck Jackson, Jackson summed up Robinson’s gift this way:

“The magic of Smokey’s sound is its simplicity, and his lyrics are so digestible. In person, what comes out is the man’s infinite compassion and warmth. Smokey saved my life one time while touring in the South in the 1960s. I had been attacked by a racist and wanted to take revenge. Smokey sent me packing down the road before I could do anything foolish. To this day, I think of him as a brother, mentor and friend.”

One of Smokey’s more recent releases is filled with songs on the singer/songwriter’s favorite theme, love, written by other icons such as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Leonard Cohen, Kurt Weill, even the legendary poet Ogden Nash.

“People ask me why I write about love all the time. Because it’s so vast a subject with so many different faces. If you write a song about love, it has the chance to live on and on. The other stuff becomes passé sooner rather than later. I was married for the first time 25 years ago. I was a bachelor for 16 years. I married again four years ago and it is great. When I look at my life, I am living beyond my wildest dreams. I am very blessed,” Robinson mused in 2007.

Voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, Smokey Robinson is now one of the pop world senior citizens,  a writer and producer still best remembered for his outstanding work in the 1960s. But like many of his enduring peers – The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney – this living legend keeps on keepin’ on.

For a preview of the show, watch Smokey in action singing Ooh Baby Baby:


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