By Marc Meltzer
A mostly female audience of about 100 gathered at the Blackstone Library Saturday to pay tribute to legendary soul singer Smokey Robinson for Black History Month.
“I contend that Smokey is the greatest songwriter of all time,” said Sembene Nathanyahu, who organized the event. “Even Bob Dylan, when he won the greatest American songwriter award, the first thing he did when he looked at the award he said ‘personally I think this should go to Smokey.’”
As part of the festivities, Nathanyahu’s vocal group, Black Elegance, performed. He stages events monthly. On March 23 at the library, a tribute to singer Sarah Vaughan will be held. The events are free.
During Saturday’s tribute, an interview with Robinson was shown in which he recalled meeting with famed Motown founder Berry Gordy about the future of the Miracles. Gordy then told Robinson that “We’re not going to make black music. We’re going to make music for everybody.”
Robinson has written over 4,000 songs. His crossover hits when he was lead singer with the Miracles vocal group include 1960s numbers “You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me,” (which was covered by the Beatles in 1963), “Mickey’s Monkey,” “I Second That Emotion,” and the number one record, “The Tears of a Clown.”
Sylvester Nettles, another member of Black Elegance, said “I love Smokey…It’s like every song he wrote made it to the charts.” He classified Robinson’s music as soul. “It’s music that you feel and all of his music tells stories. If you listen to the words, some of it is really ingenious.”
Dianne, a member of the audience who declined to give her last name, said Robinson’s music “brings back a lot of good memories from my youth and Smokey was always just a nice guy – no real scandals or anything.
“But you know, going back to like being a teenager we really looked up to him,” she said. “And we loved his music. A very talented man.”
Nettles said Robinson still tours and writes songs today.