Motown star Smokey Robinson receives prestigious award

DETROIT -- Motown star Smokey Robinson has reflected on his humble Detroit roots while accepting a prestigious lifetime contributions award in Washington, D.C.

Robinson received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song amid multiple standing ovations from an audience filled with political dignitaries at DAR Constitution Hall, the Detroit Free Press reported.

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

Smokey Robinson on new album and decades of Motown hits

Robinson said he had been raised in a north end Detroit home where the music of George and Ira Gershwin played alongside “gutbucket blues,” and that he had dreamed of being in show business since childhood. 

A band led by Detroit native Greg Phillinganes steered the evening’s performances. Robinson also took the stage to perform his own “Being With You” and a rendition of the Gershwin’s “Love Is Here to Stay.”

“Smokey was always a great poet who expressed ordinary themes in extraordinary ways,” said Motown founder Berry Gordy. 

Berry Gordy: How he used $800 to start Motown

In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Gordy explained how it all started.

“He was a wonderful poet, but he didn’t know how to write songs,” Gordy said. “They would go on and on and on.

“I really taught him how to write a simple song -- front, middle and end,” he said.

For the next three decades Robinson wrote top of the chart hits for everyone from The Temptations to The Jackson 5.

He told “CBS This Morning” it came naturally, saying “there’s really no art” to songwriting. 

“I think it’s a gift,” he said. I think that everybody gets a gift. I think God gives everybody a gift.”

“And songwriting, for me -- I’m not one of those songwriters where I have to take myself to an isolated place for two months so I can write. It just happens to me out of the clear blue. I’m on the plane or somewhere and an idea comes.”

The Gershwin Prize, awarded by the Library of Congress each year, has become one of the leading honors recognizing popular-music songwriting. Previous recipients of the award are Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Carole King, Billy Joel and Robinson’s Motown colleague Stevie Wonder.