Smokey Robinson Shares His Bucket List Item, Stevie Wonder and Martin Luther King Jr. Memories (Exclusive)
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Smokey Robinson still has things he wants to accomplish. ET's Kevin Frazier spoke to the 83-year-old singer, and Robinson revealed the last item on his bucket list.
"If there's anything left on my bucket list, it would be that I would like to make a movie, a good movie," he told ET. "... I'd like to be in a really good movie and be a character."
While Robinson hopes to play a character in a flick, lots of people want a Broadway show or a movie to be made about his life, both of which "some people have approached me to do it."
Any potential project about his life, Robinson said, is "gonna be very candid."
"I might as well be candid. I don't want to sugarcoat it... There's going to be my ups and my downs, and my positives and my negatives, and all that has to be included, if it's going to be real," he said. "I want it to be real, so people can get a good feeling of what my life has been and what it's like."
Robinson's life certainly has the makings for a movie, as he was an early Motown performer, after Berry Gordy founded the genre's namesake record company.
"It was the gathering place, man. Hitsville was our gathering place," Robinson said of the recording studio. "It was the place that you went to first when you got back in town... Everybody's over there. It was our hanging place. It wasn't just our workplace where we went and we recorded records and we did work-related stuff... it was our hanging place."
"It was unique. The studio was going 24/7, man... We have so many artists and so many producers and writers and people like that. It was just energy. I describe it as being energy," he continued. "It was just energetic, where everybody at all times... believes the legacy of Hitsville is a once-in-a-lifetime musical event. Nothing like that had happened before then, and I doubt seriously if it will ever happen again."
Motown impacted more than music, though, something that Martin Luther King Jr. himself made clear.
"We broke down a lot of barriers with music," Robinson said. "We were coming into our heyday during the height of the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King came to Motown. He was getting ready to do his 'I Have a Dream' speech. He came and he said... 'You guys are doing with music what... I'm trying to get across to people, to do legally and spiritually.'"
"I'm very, very proud of... what Motown accomplished around the world," he added. "... We're breaking down all kinds of barriers with music. That's one of my proudest achievements."
Also part of the musical heyday was Stevie Wonder, someone Robinson met years before, when Wonder was just 11 years old.
"Stevie's on the front porch, and then we take him down into the studio. He played everything down there. He played around, played the drums. He played a piano, he played the organ, he played everything down there. He was about 11 years old. He was fascinating, man," Robinson recalled. "... I tell people all the time, Stevie is blind, but he's never been handicapped."
Rather, Robinson fondly called his "incredible pal "one of the biggest pranksters you'd ever want to meet in your life," and noted that Wonder "does an imitation of everybody at Motown."
Professionally, the pair teamed up for the 1967 hit "The Tears of a Clown," after Wonder asked Robinson to help with the track. After hearing the "circus" notes at the start of the song, Robinson knew that had to be the inspiration, but wanted to put an unexpected spin on the lyrics.
"One of our teachers at elementary school told us the story of Pagliacci... the clown that everybody who came to the circus came to see... and they cheered him and they loved him," Robinson said. ".... He would go back to his dressing room and he would cry, because he didn't have that kind of admiration from a woman... So I said, 'Look, I'm gonna write about Pagliacci, but I'm just gonna make it personal.' That's where the idea for the song came from."
At the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, Robinson and Wonder teamed up for a performance of the track, which made Robinson look back on his career with awe.
"To have my music being sung and known by people is my impossible dream come true... When I got to be about seven or eight years old, I really wanted to be a singer. That was my dream. I didn't think it would ever be possible, you know, growing up in the hood," he said. "... When I hear my songs in movies and stuff like that, I still get a thrill from that, man. As a songwriter, I can't beat that. I want to write songs that people want to sing, and play, and be involved with forever."
Robinson is hoping to continue moving people through music with his new album, Gasms, which is due out April 28.
"I was thinking about something that would be controversial,' he said of naming the LP. "... When people hear 'gasm,' first thing [they] think about is orgasm, and that's the only gasm that they think about. But when they hear the record, they'll get another feeling of what 'gasm' is."
As for his legacy, Robinson said he thinks that it boils down to "the fact that I'm still here, I'm still doing it."
"I'm still doing this, and I'm still loving it. I love it every night when we do it," he told ET. "The most difficult part for me now is stamina. I think I used to be able to go out and I could do 31-nighters and be cool. I can't do that now... The travel is the most difficult part of it now, but once we get there, and we're doing the shows and stuff like that, I'm having so much fun. I am loving every moment of it."
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