Saturday, March 3, 2012 was declared ‘Smokey Robinson Day’ in Washington, D.C. by Mayor Vincent C. Gray shortly before the legendary musician took the stage at the sold out Kennedy Center Concert Hall. However, the night belonged to Duke Ellington School of the Arts who benefited from the show. The school was also able to highlight some of the incredible performers from the school’s past and the amazing talent the school is producing now.
The student band featured Joshua Allen, Daniel Azi, Taylor Forte, John Hunt, Corbin Johnson, Emily Jordan, Yolanda Maybry, Jacob Rosenberg, Julien Spires, Jonathan Stewart and Michelle Thorton. They were equally at ease providing a groove for the dance department or backing up the school’s vocalists. he school’s vocalists included Jordan Aanrud, JeJuan Everett, Randyn Fullard, Niya Norwood, India Reynolds, and Cornelius Williams who displayed technical mastery and professional stage presence.I mention the names of the student musicians names because the odds are you will hear from them again. he musicians backed Ellington Alumnus and recording artist Sylver Logan Sharp as they performed a dynamite version of Smokey Robinson’s “Since, I Lost My Baby.” The Duke Ellington School is more than music and the band provided the background music as poet Lauryn Nesbitt delivered a moving tribute to Mr. Robinson. Lauryn is further proof the school produces creative minds.
Actor Lamman Rucker gave testimony on how the school has helped his career. Duke Ellington’s children, April and Edward, were present as well. The Mayor and radio personality Donnie Simpson also filled in time before the main attraction.
Smokey Robinson did not disappoint. He went way back to his Miracle days to open the show with “Going to a Go Go.” He started the show wearing a white suit, but before the night was over he would be sporting his purple leather pants. Smokey left most of the wardrobe changes to the beautiful dancers Tracie Burton and Linda C. French.
Robinson was backed by vocalists Karri Benoit, Amon Bourne, and Serena Henry. Keyboardist James Pappas served as the musical conductor of the band which included keyboardist S’von Ringo, Jr., Robert “Boogie” Bowles on guitar, Kenneth Gioffre flutist and saxophonist, bassist Gary Foote, and drummer Harold “Tony” Lewis.
Smokey played lots of old hits including “I Second That Emotion,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tears of a Clown” from his Miracle Days. He also through in a strong set of songs he wrote for the Temptations including “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” and “My Girl.” Throughout the evening Smokey threw out colorful antidotes about The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and the remarkable Motown days. One of the more humorous stories was about Stevie Wonder wanting to drive him to the studio to record something right then, but saying he declined because Stevie drove too fast.
Robinson could have filled the whole set with songs he has written however he chose to play some covers. He covered Vanessa Carlton’s “Don’t Know Why” which shows the 72 year-old singer still pays attention to recent music. He also performed some standards such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” He also performed songs spanning his entire career including “Quit Storm” to his latest hits “Time Flies” and “That Place.”
During his show Smokey praised the musicians from the Duke Ellington School who opened for him. Robinson said the evening’s cause was important to him as he knows schools are dropping music and arts programs. He stated he “I wish we had art in all schools,” as he explained how music helped him and changed his life.
Smokey Robinson finished the show off strong with the classic “Tracks of My Tears.” He followed that with a long version of “Cruising.” The last number turned into a group sing-along. It also included an incredible saxophone solo from Kenneth Gioffre which garnered a standing ovation. Smokey’s voice might be softer now however he can still hit all the notes. His age did not stop him from doing dance moves that made the crowd worry he was going to break something.
Smokey Robinson delivered a two hour show celebrating his incredible past while helping to pave a brighter future for the next generation of musicians. It was memorable event!
Featured picture: Singer Smokey Robinson.
Running time: Approximately 3 hours, including the opening act and speakers.