Smokey Robinson Displays ‘Motown’ Legacy Via Vibrant Live Performance at DC’s MGM National Harbor Casino Theater
By Timothy Cox
Editor ‘n Chief
September 23, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC— Probably the major take-away from the sold-out Smokey Robinson show at DC’s MGM Grand Hotel Theater, was Smokey’s ability to physically cover the stage – obviously defying logic, for a 78-year-old entertainer.
In fact, William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. had his 3,000-member audience awe-struck with his ability to literally run from each end of the stage. He thrilled this sold-out crowd with his still-clear, soulful first-tenor falsetto vocal work, which remains his signature style, since his first record release “Bad Girl,” in 1959 on the Chess label.
A year later, he would collaborate with Berry Gordy Jr. and form Motown Records in his beloved Detroit. “Shop Around” would become one of the year’s most popular tunes in America in 1960.
Interestingly, the Smokey MGM audience featured a diverse blend of ages from 40s to 80s, and all in-between. It also resulted in a public sing-along, especially when the star pointed his microphone toward the audience, and on-cue, everyone sang his creative lyrics that have become a lexicon of our American Pop-Soul music culture.
SMOKEY IN ACTION: Backed by an eight-piece rhythm section and backup vocals, Smokey worked his audience with an unbridled passion, showing that age is just a number even if you’re nearly 80-years-old. (TC phone photo).
Lyrics from The Miracles’ songbook, included, “I Second That Emotion,” “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” and “Tracks of My Tears.” His Temptations’-penned classics, “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and his multi-trillion seller, “My Girl,” were also highlights during the performance. Backed by an outstanding rhythm section featuring two keyboardists, a bass player, drummer, guitarist and three backup vocalists – “Smoke” accompanied his hits with personal stories, making the music even more appealing and personal.
His treatment of “Tears of a Clown” was special, as was “Quiet Storm” and “Just to See Her” — tunes recorded in the 1980s when many of his ’60s contemporaries had lost their zeal and record-buying appeal.
He shared his longtime love and friendship for Stevie Wonder and, he’ll always be treasured for his support of Michael Jackson when his fellow Motown cohort faced tremendous public pressure concerning alleged pedophilia charges.
Through it all, Smokey remained Mike’s friend til the end.
CLASSIC MIRACLES LINEUP: The Miracles’ 1960 group featured From left: Claudette Rogers Robinson, Ronnie White, Warrant “Pete” Moore, William “Smokey” Robinson and guitarist, Marv Tarpley. Bobby Rogers later joined the group.
During the Sept. 15 show, he reflected on returning to DC. “I recall coming here and playing the Howard Theater,” he said to loud cheers. “I always loved the Howard. I grew up there,” he added. “But this place is really something special. I heard Steve was here last week,” he said referring to Wonder’s Sept. 8 show at the MGM National Harbor venue.
For this writer, witnessing Smokey for a first time – climaxes my experiences in seeing classic Motown legends live and in-person. At age 14, my first-ever concert was the Jackson 5 in July 1972 at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. I got a chance to meet Stevie Wonder in 1984 at the Jack “The Rapper” music convention in Atlanta, Georgia. In Spring 1983, I covered the final Marvin Gaye solo tour in Pittsburgh, a year before his untimely death. I also covered The Victory Tour (1984) and Michael Jackson’s Bad Tour (1987) and as a performer, I’ve worked onstage with former Supremes member Mary Wilson in Augusta, Georgia, and at a similar venue, met with Temptations’ legend, Dennis Edwards with his Temptations Tribute Band. I covered the Temptations Reunion Tour of 1982, and witnessed David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks drinking cocktails at the Aurora Club in the “Hill District” hours after their Pittsburgh Civic Arena performance. I covered Diana Ross just a year ago at the Wolf Trap Pavilion in Vienna, Virginia and earlier this summer opened a show for Gladys Knight. It should also be noted that I I’ve also visited the internationally renown Motown Museum on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
MORE CLASSIC MIRACLES: From left: Bobby Rogers, Warren “Pete” Moore, Smokey’s ex-wife, Claudette Rogers Robinson; Ronnie White and “Smokey” Bill Robinson.
Back to the Smokey Show, we gotta give it to the “Smoke” man for holding-up the Motown banner as pridefully as he does. During his recent show, he offered personal stories about the company’s formation – and how a tight-knit group of black teenagers were able to follow the tutelage of Berry Gordy Jr., and become one of the world’s most successful music corporations of ALL-TMES.
Hopefully, someday, you’ll also be able to witness the legend of Mr. Smokey Bill Robinson for yourself – it’s definitely a show worth seeing. MOTOWN FOREVER!
(EDITOR’S NOTE:In addition to the exquisite ambiance provided by the MGM National Theater, the $1.6 million complex also provides first-class, top-notch party rooms, reminiscent of an era-gone-by, notbably the 70s Discotheque, aka the Purple Rope aura of the legendary Studio 54. This time without traveling to the Big Apple, DC-area partygoers have the booming danceable-audio sounds at The Felt Bar (above) and Blossom cocktail lounges. Both party rooms provide the funky-town vibes of today’s house-pop music, with a taste of traditional and current hip-hop, according to Lady NIA, Operations Manager of The Felt. Credit Lady Nia for her ultra professional, sophisticated manner of handling her customers and especially first-time visiting media types. For more information about private reservations, call MGM Guest Relations at 301-971-5180. (Photo courtesy MGM National)