Smokey Robinson took time out to talk to AARP The Magazine about his incredible career and some of his most beloved and talented friends and collaborators. The Motown legend's full interview appears in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of the magazine and features Smokey paying homage to his childhood friend from Detroit — the late “Queen Of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, revealing, “I’m still in recovery mode, because I love her and I’m going to miss our conversations and our getting together. But I know that spiritually she’s in a better place. She was suffering at the end there, and I don’t ever want to see her suffer. So now she’s cool, and I’m cool 'cause she’s cool.”
Robinson went on to say that he never thought of himself as a great vocalist: “No. I think I feel songs. Whitney Houston was a great singer. Celine Dion is a great singer. Aretha Franklin was a great singer. I’m not in that category, I won’t fool myself. But I feel what I sing, and I think people can feel what I feel when I do.”
He touched upon collaborating with the great Stevie Wonder on the 1970 two-week chart-topper, “Tears Of A Clown,” recalling, “I wrote the words, Stevie Wonder and Hank Cosby wrote the music. Stevie had recorded that track and he couldn’t think of a song to go with it, so he gave it to me. I wanted to write something about the circus that would be touching to people. When I was a child, I heard a story about Pagliacci, the Italian clown. Everybody loved him and they cheered him, but when he went back to his dressing room he cried, because he didn’t have that kind of love from a woman. So that’s what 'Tears Of A Clown' is about. It's a version of Pagliacci’s life.”
Robinson had a unique vantage point to both know and love Motown — and all of pop music's biggest geniuses. He spoke candidly about Michael Jackson, whom he met in 1968: “Young Michael Jackson was a man. He didn’t have a childhood. From the time he was, like, eight, they had him singing in the nightclubs. So when he got grown, he became a child because he could do it — he could play, he could do all those things that he didn’t do as a child.”
Smokey spoke about his timeless bond with the remarkable, yet doomed, Marvin Gaye: “Marvin Gaye was my brother brother. We were together all the time, and he recorded my favorite album of all time, What’s Going On. He was one of the greatest singers ever. I used to tell him all the time, 'You 'Marvin-ized' my song, man.' Because he would do stuff vocally that I had never even dared to dream could be a part of the song.”
Smokey Robinson spoke about Aretha Franklin, telling CBS This Morning how they met back in Detroit during the late-1940's: “We became friends because she and her family moved to Detroit when I was eight-years-old, really. And, y'know how kids are, her brother Cecil, who was my lifelong ace boon coon (laughter) until he passed, y'know, came around to just play with the guys in the neighborhood. And we went around to see his new house. We're walking through the house and I hear this little voice and a piano playing somewhere in this room. And this voice comin' — and I peak in and there's Aretha sittin' at the piano, playing and singing — almost like she did as an adult, but she was probably only about five-years-old. But that's how I first met her.”
Smokey Robinson will next perform on February 7th at San Antonio's AT&T Center.