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Smokey Robinson still has it at 81: ‘There is still nothing like entertaining an audience’

UPDATED: Fri., July 23, 2021

Smokey Robinson is ageless. Just three months before the pandemic shut down civilization, the Motown legend was belting out hits in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It didn’t matter that Robinson has reached octogenarian status. His distinctive tenor was intact during an evening when he waltzed down memory lane.

How is Robinson, who also looks great, music’s Dorian Gray? Much like Sting, who turns 70 in October, it’s all about clean living for Robinson. “I take good care of myself,” Robinson said. “I’m not a partier anyway. The way I look at it is that I have a job to do so the people in the audience can party. I’ve been blessed to have such an instrument.

“I thank God for that and the life I have, which is something I enjoy and appreciate. I do all that I can to be as healthy as possible to sing. Young singers have asked me how I do it at this age, and the answer is to stay in shape. I walk every day. I used to run marathons, but I couldn’t continue running that distance due to my knees, which got bad on me. I stretch every morning, and I’ve been doing yoga for many years.”

Robinson, 81, is best-known as a performer, but the humble Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is one of the greatest songwriters in Motown’s long and illustrious history. The soulful entertainer’s songwriting and production ability made him arguably the most indispensable member of the Motown Machine. Gems such as “Shop Around” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” were written and performed by Robinson while he fronted the Miracles.

But Robinson, who will perform Saturday at Northern Quest Resort & Casino, also penned classics such as “My Guy” for Mary Wells and “My Girl” for the Temptations.

“There was a lot of inspiration that was flowing through me,” Robinson said. “I had songs coming out of me left and right back then. I’ve always enjoyed writing songs. It’s been as important as singing to me. The ability to write a song is something I’m proud of.”

The elegant vocalist, with the familiar falsetto, caused Bob Dylan to gush. The iconic songwriter called Robinson America’s greatest living poet. “That’s something I’ll always treasure,” Robinson said. “To hear something like that from anybody is great, but to hear that from (Dylan) is incredible.”

Robinson, who somehow also found time to commit to being the vice president of Motown Records during his salad days, was mentioned in the Gorge concert documentary, “Enormous: The Gorge Story,” which hit screens Wednesday.

During “Enormous” Robinson, so taken with the beauty of the Gorge, told the audience he was going to play his entire canon. Obviously that’s hyperbole, but Robinson, like a special few iconic recording artists, could not exhaust his hits during a conventional concert.

As the leader of the Miracles, Robinson recorded a staggering 26 Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1970.”You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Second That Emotion” and “Mickey’s Monkey” are a couple of Robinson and the Miracle’s Top 10 hits.

Robinson has 13 more Top 40 hits to his credit as a solo recording artist. “That’s great, but I have written thousands of songs,” Robinson said. While growing up in Detroit, Robinson’s two older sisters introduced Robinson to jazz, and he devoured Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan while his mother played blues innovators such as Muddy Waters and Little Walter for him.

Robinson, who is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, grew up with the late Aretha Franklin. “I was friends with Aretha’s brother (Cecil),” Robinson said. “I remember Aretha, when she was 5 years old and she could sing like nobody else. She had it then, and she was just amazing. One of the greatest of all time.” The same can be said for Robinson, who was awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contribution to popular music in 2016.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate,” Robinson said. “I’ve been honored so many times, and I take that all seriously. But the greatest for me is to be able to write, sing and to have worked with so many incredibly talented people. I don’t know how I could have had a better life. I love performing, or I wouldn’t still be doing this. I could have retired years ago, but there is still nothing like entertaining an audience.”

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