LOS ANGELES, Feb 4 ― Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, the visionary creative duo behind the revolutionary Motown genre, saw their legacy play out onstage Friday at a pre-Grammy gala honoring their life’s work.
From Robinson’s The Tracks of My Tears to My Girl songs, Motown defined the 1960s and influenced scores of artists that followed.
Gordy’s now iconic Motown Records, which the 93-year-old founded in Detroit in 1959, also played a pivotal role in uniting Black and white music fans in a decade convulsed by racial divisions.
Robinson was only 17 years old when he was recruited to join the label, where the balladeer became a prolific songwriter and seminal figure of the early days of R&B and soul.
“There had never been anything like Motown before Motown,” the now 82-year-old artist told AFP on the red carpet. “There will never be anything like Motown again.”
The star-studded gala that this year included Motown prodigy Stevie Wonder is an annual pre-Grammy tradition from MusiCares, the charitable wing of the Recording Academy that raises money to help musicians in need.
Friday marked the first time the show honored two artists, a decision MusiCares said was necessary to fete the two musical legends “of equal and parallel esteem.”
“Both loom so large in music, and their stories are so intertwined, that picking just one as the MusiCares Person Of The Year ― an honor previously bestowed on Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Aerosmith, and other luminaries ― would be a half-measure,” the institution said.
US singer Lionel Ritchie performs on stage during the 2023 MusiCares Persons of the Year gala honoring Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson at the LA Convention Centre in Los Angeles, February 3, 2023. ― AFP
Industry darlings turned out in full Motown swing with performers including the Four Tops, the Isley Brothers, Dionne Warwick, John Legend and Brandi Carlile.
The Temptations opened the show with a rollicking rendition of their smash hit “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and later crooned “My Girl” as Gordy and Robinson flashed megawatt smiles and bopped along.
Sheryl Crow belted out Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” in a feathered, sparkling minidress, and Jimmie Allen performed “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with Valerie Simpson, who co-wrote that hit, which Marvin Gaye and later Diana Ross made famous.
A trio of Best New Artist Grammy nominees ― DOMi and JD Beck, Samara Joy, and Molly Tuttle ― did a genre-bending medley of Motown classics.
“How in the world did I get to be in the Motown family? How in the world did I get a chance to have a catalog and be sitting here in front of my two amazing mentors?” said Lionel Richie in a heartfelt tribute.
“You guys mean the world to me,” he said before singing “Easy,” the beloved track he made famous with the Commodores in a performance that bought the room to its feet.
Wonder had the room standing once again as he delivered a reggae-tinged version of “Tears of a Clown.”
“I wouldn’t be here” without Robinson and Gordy, said Wonder ― the virtuoso and music luminary who auditioned for Motown at just 11 years old.
“I can never repay you,” he said. “Thank you, I love you, thank you, I love you.”
“We should write a song like that!” ― AFP