Motown icon Smokey Robinson to perform at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center

Motown icon Smokey Robinson will be performing at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, Friday, Oct. 7, at 8 pm (Courtesy of Craig Hunter)

 The name Smokey Robinson is synonymous with Motown. In fact, he’s known as “The King of Motown.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee was the match that lit the flame for the national rise of Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. Throughout his career, Smokey Robinson has written over a thousand songs, many of which were top 40 hits. Among his long list of honors: he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, he is a Kennedy Center honoree, holds a BET Lifetime Achievement award, and honorary Doctorate of Music degrees from Howard University and the Berklee College of Music.

Smokey Robinson will be in Atlanta, performing at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center on Friday evening, Oct. 7, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via telephone before hitting the stage.

Interview highlights:

How the Motown legend got his nickname, “Smokey:”

“That goes way back to when I was about three or four years old,” said Robinson. “I was a cowboy fanatic. I loved cowboys at that age, and especially the ones who sang – like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and those guys like that who played the guitar and sang – and I loved them. My uncle…used to take me to see cowboy movies, and he would always take me to see Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, because he knew I loved the cowboys who sang. So he developed a cowboy name for me, which was ‘Smokey Joe.’ Everybody’s called me ‘Smokey Joe’ since I was three or four years old, with the exception of when I got to be about 12, they dropped the ‘Joe’ off.”

The origin of Smokey’s first hit, “Shop Around:”

“It was written in about 20 minutes. I was actually writing it for another artist, though. We had an artist named Barrett Strong, and we had a hit record on him called ‘Money, That’s What I Want.’ You know, ‘The best things in life are free,’ remember? So Berry wanted me to do an album for him, and I figured, ‘Well, you got money, so what do you do? You shop,'” recalled Robinson. “So I wrote ‘Shop Around’ in about 20, 30 minutes, and I was very excited about it. I showed it to Berry, and he said he wanted me to sing it. So he convinced me to sing it rather than Barrett, thank God. It was the first million-seller at Motown and our first number one record.”

How Motown Records may have helped the cause of civil rights:

“We gave people a common love,” said Robinson. “You know, Dr. Martin Luther King came to Motown before he recorded the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, which was on Motown, because he wanted to be on Motown. Because he came and he said, ‘You guys are doing with music what I’m trying to do legally and in all other ways. I’m trying to bring people together, and you guys are doing it with music.'”

Robinson went on, “Because we were. Especially when we first started going to the South, the audience would be separated, and it be white people on one side, Black people on the other side… They weren’t even looking at each other; basically, you know? So after they fell in love with the music, we would go back a year or so later, and we would see white boys with Black girlfriends and Black boys and white girlfriends, and all the kids were dancing together, and they had a common love.”

Why Smokey always loved writing for other artists on Motown:

“I loved it because they were my brothers and sisters. I mean, we were growing up there together at Motown, and Motown was a family. I mean, the people say ‘the Motown family;’ they thought it was mythical, but it wasn’t. Because we were not just stable mates, just people at a record company who knew each other. We hung out with each other on a daily basis,” Robinson said. “We went to each other’s homes. We had picnics. We went to the movies. We went to dinner. We went bowling. We went everywhere together. So they were my brothers and sisters.”

Smokey Robinson will perform Oct. 7 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Tickets and more information are available at