At 69, Smokey Robinson is still at the heart of the music industry. Nine days ago, the King of Motown was front and center at the Grammys for its big Michael Jackson tribute.
On Wednesday night, he’ll produce the first White House concert of 2010, and he’ll sing with Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Natalie Cole, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Seal and the Blind Boys of Alabama.
On Saturday, Smokey returns to Las Vegas to perform at the Green Valley Ranch Grand Events Center.
Smokey sang at President Barack Obama‘s inaugural ball for the armed forces but didn’t get to meet him. So he plans to finally tell Obama he’s “very proud” of him during “A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.”
“We’re celebrating Black History Month, and we are also acknowledging the civil rights movement, so all the music we are singing is from the civil rights era,” Smokey says.
The show will be emceed by Morgan Freeman and Queen Latifah, streamed live online at WhiteHouse.gov, then broadcast Thursday night on PBS.
By the way, Smokey’s voice and vocal choices sound incredible for long stretches on his latest album, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun.” (He also has promoted vocal group Human Nature at Imperial Palace.)
ON MICHAEL: ‘LET HIM REST IN PEACE’
Smokey says he was proud to be part of the Grammy tribute to “my little brother” Jackson, joined by Usher, Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood and Hudson.
Months ago, Smokey expressed disgust with media reports of Jackson’s death.
“I’m feeling better about it now. At first, there was so much controversy going on. But I think it’s quieted down now, and my little brother has been buried, and I want them to let him rest in peace.”
I asked Smokey if he was saddened by details of Jackson’s death.
“I was sad about a lot of the controversy,” he says. “I didn’t believe it. But I was sad about the fact that they would carry him through that, knowing the kind of person that he was — that he loved people so much, and for him to feel betrayed by a lot of people and by a lot of people’s idea of who he was.”
He hopes viewers were moved when his Grammy group sang Jackson’s anti-war, pro-environment “Earth Song,” which goes, “What about the bleeding Earth? … We’ve turned kingdoms to dust. … Do we give a damn?”
“Michael was an advocate for the ecology, and to stop the cruelty to animals, and he loved people. So he wrote that song to express that feeling.”
BLESSINGS FOR ME
At the end of our interview, Smokey gave me a “God bless you” (not a sneeze blessing, but a soul thing). Several years ago, backstage, Prince talked with me about my soul and blessed me. Then, Stevie Wonder blessed me. So as far as my soul goes, I think I’m covered.
As I wrote last week, I told Michael Irvin and Donald Trump that my New Orleans Saints would beat the Indianapolis Colts 38-17. “I hope so,” Irvin said. Everyone thought I was nuts. Who’s nuts now? It was 31-17. (I didn’t account for the Saints’ jitters in the first quarter.)
Before the Super Bowl, it was irritating to hear analysts pooh-pooh the Saints’ chances. I never understood why anyone thought the Colts could beat the beasts that sent Kurt Warner into retirement and Brett Favre to the hospital, and humbled Tom Brady and Eli Manning (and now Peyton Manning).
Geaux Saints! Respect!
Doug Elfman’s column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.