William ‘Smokey’ Robinson, op 19 februari 1940 geboren in Detroit (Michigan), is inmiddels 81 jaar. Met zijn song ‘Shop Around’, in 1960 op de plaat gezet door zijn groep, de Miracles, bezorgde hij Berry Gordy, diens muziekuitgeverij Jobete en platenmaatschappij Motown, een eerste million-seller. Als zanger, producer, songwriter en vice-president werd Smokey Robinson een van de meest markante persoonlijkheden binnen Motown.
    Tien jaar geleden, op 9 maart 2011, publiceerde ik het artikel ‘Smokey Robinson aan het woord’ – op 25 april 2019 gevolgd door ‘Claudette, een vrouw bij de Miracles’. Claudette Rogers (geb. 20 juni 1942) was een kwart eeuw de echtgenote van Smokey, totdat het fout ging.
 
 
432 1 infidelity

 
Womanizer
 
 
In de biografie die J. Randy Taraborrelli schreef over Diana Ross, eveneens jarenlang verbonden aan Motown, gaf de auteur aan dat Robinson populair bij de vrouwen was.
    Een lid van Martha & the Vandellas (de groep van Martha Reeves, van ‘Dancing in the Street’) verkondigde in het boek: “Smokey was a womanizer, and vulnerable to any overtures. There were a lot of cute girls hanging around him. The word was out that he was real hot in the sack, the best lover at Hitsville, with the best equipment. That was what all the girls talked about constantly – his ‘equipment’. She remembers clusters of young girls whispering and giggling about Smokey, and then clamming up when they would see him walking in their direction. The fact that Smokey was married did not dissuade most of the girls. He was so romantic, this man. Every young girl at Hitsville wanted to be laid by Smokey Robinson”.
   Taraborrelli: “Smokey’s dashing good looks made him attractive to all the girls. Not only did romantic poetry about true and eternal love roll of his lips as easily as simple conversation, he also had a reputation for being something of a stud”.
 
 
432 2 Smokey Motown vrouwenSmokey (achter, witte jas) met Motown-vrouwen
 
 
Interview in 1983
 
 
Tijdens een interview met Dave Marsh vertelde Smokey in 1983 over zijn achtergrond – onder andere over de favoriete artiesten uit zijn jeugd: Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke en Frankie Lymon. Zelf beschouwde hij zich meer als een liedjesschrijver dan zanger. “Barbra Streisand’s a singer. Pavarotti’s a singer. I don’t think I have an outstanding voice, or anything like that I just feel what I’m singing and I think that projects through to the listener. That’s how I look at myself.
   I just love to sing, though. I’ve been singing all my life. My sister kids me about how they always used to tell me to shut up. I was always singing”.
 
 
Terugblik op ‘Shop Around’ (twee versies)
 
 
Bijna vanzelfsprekend kwam het gesprek op die zo belangrijke eerste hit, ‘Shop Around’. Hoe die tot stand gekomen was:
   “‘Shop Around’ took five minutes. In five minutes, ‘Shop Around’ was written and done. I was doing it for Barrett Strong [de zanger van ‘Money’, in 1960]”.
   
De Motown-directeur bemoeide zich persoonlijk met de opbouw van de song. “When I played it for Berry Gordy, we were at the piano and he said, ‘No, I think that we oughta do this to the chorus’. The part that says ‘Try to get yourself a bargain son / don’t be sold’... and I had some other chords there”.
   Berry Gordy: “No, we oughta put these chords in there and then, at the end, ‘try to find the one who’s gonna give you true loving’, he said, ‘we oughta break that in there, you know, so that call stands out’.
   So we were all excited about the song and after we got through working on it, he said, ‘You gotta sing this song’”.
   I said, ‘Man, I’m doing the album on Barrett’.
   He said, ‘I don’t care. You got to cut this song. I love the way you sing it’.
   So I recorded it and the record came out”.
 
Het leek er aanvankelijk niet op dat ‘Shop Around’ een hit zou gaan worden.
   “It had been out for about two weeks when Berry calls me – three o’clock in the morning. He says, ‘Hey man, what you doin’?’
   I said, ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning, what do you think I’m doing? I’m asleep’.
   He said, ‘I want you and Claudette to get up and come over here and I want you to call the other guys [Miracles] and tell them to come to the studio right now’.
   I said, ‘Why, man?’
   He said, ‘Because, man, I can’t sleep; I haven’t slept in three or four days. ‘Shop Around’ keeps going through my mind. You didn’t cut it right. I gotta re-cut it; I gotta change the beat’. He said, ‘And then it’s going to number one’.
   I said, ‘Well, OK, all right’. I woke up Claudette and said, ‘Let’s get up, we gotta go to the studio’. And I called the other guys and they said, ‘Man, are you crazy?’
   I said, ‘No, Berry wants us over there right now’.
   So I got over there, and Berry had called all the musicians and everybody showed up but the piano player, so Berry played the piano himself on the session. And he recut it and it went to number one just like he said”.
 
 
432 3 Shop Around

 
‘Nooit in de kerk gezongen’
 
 
Veel zwarte artiesten hadden zich voor het eerst in de kerk laten horen. Smokey Robinson niet. “I’ve never sang spirituals. I was in the choir in school. I was in the glee club throughout grammar school, from the time I was in second grade until I graduated from grammar school, in the eighth grade, and then I went to high school and I was in the choir all through high school.
   But I never sang in church. My wife [Claudette] was the only one of us who sang in church”.
 
 
Problemen
 
 
Smokey, de man die zo perfect verhalen en ideeën in een liedje kon overzetten, was een goede prater. Marsh legde het vast: “What’s most striking about listening to Robinson is the musicality of his speech. He elongates syllables, snaps words short, stretches lines, uses silence in a way that is beyond reproduction. William ‘Smokey’ Robinson talks like a singer”.
 
Zes jaar later, in 1989, zette Smokey zelf op papier wat hij de jaren daarvoor beleefd had. Het maandblad Ebony, gericht op de zwarte bevolking van de Verenigde Staten, drukte in het december-nummer af wat de artiest geschreven had, met name over hetgeen hij meegemaakt had kort na het interview met Marsh. 
 
Ondanks alle successen ging het helemaal niet goed met hem. Om te beginnen overleed zijn vader, een baken in zijn leven. “I was in my forties when it happened. He had been such a close part of my life for so long – since the day I was born – I never figured on being without him. He was the one constant, the guy I could always count on.
   Because he’d beaten back sickness so many times, I believed his heart would never stop pumping. It was hard to admit it, but with him gone, I felt frightened. Without daddy’s advice, without his emotional support, I wasn’t sure what would happen to me”.
 
Zijn huwelijk was bovendien in zwaar water gekomen. “My wife helped, but somehow I was feeling estranged from her”.
   Claudette voelde dat er iets aan de hand was, liet Smokey aan de lezers van Ebony weten. “She knew something was wrong. She knew things were coming to a head. She wanted us to remarry for our twenty-fifth anniversary. Friends we knew were celebrating the same anniversary and suggested we have a double wedding.
   I thought about it. I tried to get back into my marriage, back into Claudette, but my heart wouldn’t budge. My heart was something out there. I’m not sure where my heart was, but I knew it wasn’t at home”.
   “I can’t do it, baby. I can’t do it just for appearance’s sake”, zo zou hij op het nadrukkelijke voorstel van zijn vrouw gereageerd hebben.
   “You’re so far away”, Claudette said. “You’re somewhere off in space”.
 
 
432 4 Smokey Claudette 1959Smokey en Claudette in 1959
 
 
Voor het eerst in zijn leven was Smokey aan de drugs geraakt. “My drug thing began, I started smoking rock cocaine cigarettes. I’d sneak it around the house; little by little, I’d get higher and higher.
   ‘I want you to reconsider our re-marriage’, Claudette said. ‘It really means a lot to me’.
   I reconsidered. I tried. I just couldn’t”.
 
 
Kandi
 
 
Smokey Robinson, de womanizer, had in die tijd een amoureuze verhouding met een vrouw die hij als Kandi aanduidde. “Kandi had never any man but me”.
   Uit onderzoek was gebleken dat ze geen kinderen zou krijgen. “The doctors had always told her she could never conceive”.
   Dat bleek onjuist te zijn. “I’m pregnant”, vertelde ze in 1983 onverwacht aan de artiest. 
   Dat was, in de woorden van Smokey, ‘startling news’.
   Kandi begreep wat de consequenties zouden zijn voor het huwelijk van Smokey en Claudette. “If you don’t want this baby, I’ll go away and have it alone. I mean that”, liet ze hem weten.
   Dat wilde Smokey niet voor zijn verantwoording nemen. “It’s my baby as well as yours. We’ll go through this thing together”.
 
Smokey kon het achteraf mooi uitdrukken. “I would never have urged her to do anything but follow her own instincts. I’m a man who believes that, in this delicate matter, it’s the woman who must decide; it’s her body – not the man’s – that’s being altered. I knew Kandi would never have an abortion. She said, ‘I want something that’s part of you, angel. I want this baby’”.
 
De Motown-artiest had wel een vermoeden hoe Claudette zou reageren als ze hoorde dat haar echtgenoot een kind buiten hun huwelijk verwekt had. Geen wonder dat hij, ten tijde van het feest van een kwart eeuw getrouwd zijn, die boodschap steeds opnieuw uitstelde. Totdat het niet langer mogelijk was. “In 1984 my son Trey was born. I praised God for this gift of his life. He was healthy and strong, clear-eyed and handsome. I was proud.
   I’d planned to tell Claudette while Kandi was pregnant, but something got in the way – her plans for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary”.
 
 
Kogel door de kerk
 
 
Pas nadat ze formeel 25 jaar getrouwd waren durfde Smokey het aan om Claudette op de hoogte te brengen. “‘I’ve had a baby with Kandi’, I finally found the courage to tell her after our anniversary had passed”.
   Die reageerde heftig. “Claudette lost control. She cried; she screamed; she shook with anger; she told me that was it; it was all over”.
   Wat kon de man, die samen met mede-Miracle Ronnie White de song ‘My Girl’ geschreven had, anders doen dan zich bescheiden opstellen. “I said I understood. I had no explanations. It happened. I was responsible. The child was mine. I decided to move out. I left, found an apartment, got higher and higher, fell lower and lower”.
 
 
Berry Gordy probeert te helpen
 
 
Berry Gordy, eigenaar en directeur van Motown, begreep dat hij iets moest doen met zijn directe ondergeschikte, die hij als vice-president had aangesteld.
   “Berry Gordy grew alarmed. ‘Come up to my place, man, I need to talk to you’. He kept me up at his Bel Air mansion for a week, trying to talk some sense in me”.
 
Smokey probeerde er het beste van te maken, tekende hij later op. “All the time I was there, I was thinking about getting high, thinking I was fooling Berry, thinking I was fooling everyone. I never had any dope with me, though, out of respect for Berry and his position. What’s more, he maintains a strict no-drug policy, which I wasn’t about to defy.
   We’d walk around his grounds. He had llamas and peacocks and owls. The pool glistened with sunlight. Servants brought me mineral water and herb tea. 
   ‘Stay as long as you want, Smoke’, he urged. ‘But just promise me you’ll stop’.
   I promised him; I lied.
   In his guesthouse, where I slept, he put magazine articles and brochures outlining the dangers of coke. I didn’t care”.
 
Smokey bevond zich in een onmogelijke situatie. “Daddy was dead. [zoon] Trey was alive. Claudette was hurt. Kandi was worried. Kandi begged me to tell her what was happening. She knew something was wrong. But I wouldn’t say a word.
 
 
Scheiding
 
 
Het duurde volgens Robinson nog een half jaar voor hij tot daden over ging. “After six months I told Claudette to go ahead and divorce me.
   ‘Does that mean it’s all over?’ she asked.
   ‘I guess so’”.
 
Claudette, moeder van zoon Berry en dochter Tamla, wilde het initiatief niet nemen. “I won’t do it, Smokey, I won’t divorce you. Despite everything, it’s not a divorce I want. You’re going to have to initiate the procedure. I won’t”, op die manier had ze volgens hem gereageerd.
   Smokey moest zelf maar aan het werk gaan. “Two days later, in a fatigued, fogged-over state of mind, I went to see a lawyer. 
   ‘What are your grounds for divorce?’ he asked.
   ‘None’, I said”.
 
Tijdens een ontmoeting met Claudette en de kinderen probeerde Smokey er nog het beste van te maken. “I tried to act civil”. Maar zonder resultaat: “She was short and hostile with me”.
   Smokey wilde een soort vriendschap in stand houden. “I said I was fine, said nothing was wrong”.
   Maar hij besefte dat zijn ex daar niet intrapte. “Claudette knew me; she knew I was lying”.
 
 
Leon Kennedy
 
 
Om zijn verdriet te boven te komen liet Smokey zich verleiden om dan maar weer aan het werk te gaan. “I booked a concert date. Even at my lowest ebb, my fans never knew about my condition, never deserted me. I could always draw a crowd”.
   Zonder cocaine durfde hij evenwel niet op de bühne te staan. “Before I went on I got extremely high”.
 
 
432 5 Jackie WilsonJackie Wilson (links)
 
 
Van zijn oude zelfvertrouwen was weinig meer over. “I faced the audience. I sang, but with none of the old fire. I saw ghosts – Jackie Wilson collapsing on stage, Sam Cooke being shot through the heart.
   What if my heart gave out. ‘He’s dead’, I heard imaginary voices say as I walked back to my dressing room. ‘The guy’s as good as dead’”.
 
Smokey trok zich na afloop van het concert in zijn kleedkamer terug. Totdat er op de deur geklopt werd. “The knock on the door was loud and persistent. At first I thought I was dreaming. Then I got scared. Maybe it was the cops, maybe a killer. Fear was all up in my face.
   ‘Open the door, man! Open it now!’
   I knew Leon Kennedy’s voice. I let him in”.
   Leon Kennedy was al vele jaren een vriend.
 
De Motown-artiest probeerde zich stoer te houden, maar vergeefs. “‘Smoke’, Leon said. ‘What the hell are you doing to yourself, man. Why do you want to die?’
   ‘I ain’t dying, just cooling out’.
   ‘Coke’s got you so disgusted with yourself, you can’t stop. Can’t you see the vicious cycle?’
   ‘Leon, you don’t know what you’re talking about’, I lied”.
 
Aan de lezers van Ebony legde Smokey uit: “Dopers always lie to cover up. I didn’t tell him about the stomach pains, the pus passing out of my body, the heart palpitations, the cold sweats”.
   Leon Kennedy liet zich niet voor de gek houden. “You look like a ghost, Smoke. Your skin’s turning green, your eyes are all sunken into your head, you’re wasting away to nothing”.
   Smokey: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m doing fine, man, just leave me alone”.
   Leon: “No, I’m not leaving at all. I’m staying here and I’m praying for you. I don’t care how long it takes”.
   Smokey: “Leon stayed and prayed for me all night; he prayed till the sun came up; he wouldn’t leave me; he stayed at my house all the next day and that night insisted that we go to a place called Ablaze Ministry”.
 
 
Naar de kerk
 
 
432 6 Jean PerezJean Perez
 
 
Leon en Smokey gingen samen naar het kerkje, dat zijn vriend had aanbevolen. Daar ging het er nogal vrolijk aan toe. Smokey: “Ablaze wasn’t a church, just a small building in a working class neighborhood on Florence Avenue [Los Angeles] where people were up and singing. Everyone looked joyful and glad. It wasn’t an all-black hallelujah holy revival, but rather a room filled with different type people – orientals, chicanos, whites and blacks”.
   Een zwarte, forse vrouw, Jean Perez, had de leiding. Ze was als een brok dynamiet. “I’d never seen a woman preacher before, and she was dynamite. She didn’t come at you from the bible; she came from the street, said how she’d done it all herself – the drugs and drinking – and she’d seen another way. She was real. Her speech was captivating”.
 
Meteen na binnenkomst werd Smokey door Perez naar voren geroepen. “You”, she said, pointing to me. “Would you please come up here?”
   De artiest hoopte nog even dat zij een ander bedoelde. “I looked around, embarrassed, hoping she meant someone else. She didn’t”.
   Er was geen ontkomen meer aan. “Tentatively, slowly, I made my way to the podium where she stood. She hugged me, much as my mother might hug a son”.
 
Jean Perez wist dat ze met een beroemdheid te doen had. En misschien ook wel wat zijn probleem was. “I felt the heat of her breath as she whispered into my ear away from the microphone so only I could hear.
   ‘I know who you are’, she said. ‘I didn’t call your name because not everyone recognized you. You look so bad. I had been praying for you a year now. The Lord put you on my heart. He really loves you. You’re one of His children. And He sent you here tonight so I could heal you in the name of Jesus. I know about your palpitations and the way you sweat at night’”.
   Smokey was verbijsterd, was in het tijdschrift te lezen. “I hadn’t told anyone about any of those things”.
 
Jean begon over zijn verslaving te praten. “The drugs have eaten away your stomach lining. If you hadn’t come here, you would have died”.
   Volgens Smokey werd het haar allemaal te veel. Misschien kwam dat wel omdat ze met een beroemde artiest te maken had. “Saying that, she started praying over me. Suddenly, she passed out, falling back behind the podium. 
   Chills ran through me. I stood there stunned. 
   They tried to revive her, tried to lift her up, but she was a big woman and it wasn’t easy. When she came to, she looked at me and said, ‘I never pass out during prayer. You’re a powerful spirit in the Lord. I want you to stay after everyone leaves’”.
 
Jean vroeg Smokey en zijn vriend om haar te volgen. “After the service, Leon and I followed her into a small room in the back. There she prayed on me again, holding me close to her, her eyes closed tight, her heart beating loud. Then, for the second time, she passed out.
   When she came to, the woman said, ‘Ooo wee, your spirit is strong, Smokey! You’re a positive influence on people, and your influence was about to be taken from you. but now you’re all right. Now you’re cool. The Lord has His arms around you’.
   ‘What does that mean?’ I asked”.
 
Volgens Jean Perez had God het beste met Smokey voor. Ze gaf hem nog wat aanwijzigingen.
   “You’ll go on with your life and you’ll be a stronger person. The Lord doesn’t want you to start preaching, doesn’t want you to sing only gospel music. If you do, your secular fans will drop you and the gospel fans won’t take you seriously. Just be you. Doing what you do, you can get millions to come over to the Lord from all over the world. Don’t push your testimony. He will let you know when to give it, and He will tell you how”.
 
 
Gered
 
 
Als je Smokey Robinson mocht geloven, waren zijn problemen voorbij. Drie jaar later keek hij met voldoening terug op wat hij beleefd had.
   “I left the Alblaze Ministry that night feeling higher than at any moment of my life, higher than I’d ever been on coke, so good and so high I felt like I was walking on air.
   Since that night – it’s been three years – I haven’t touched or wanted any form of any drug. Just like that, the desire left me.
   Being in show business, I’m always around the stuff. There have been endless opportunities to get high. Miraculously, I’ve not even been tempted. Miraculously, I was saved.
   The Lord washed me clean”.
 
 
432 7 Smokey met kruisSmokey met kruis
 
 
Erkenning
 
 
In 1987 maakte Smokey zijn comeback in de Amerikaanse top 10 met songs als ‘Just to see her’ en ‘One Heartbeat’. In 1989 publiceerde hij met hulp van David Ritz zijn memoires, waarin ook het Ebony-artikel was opgenomen.
   Zoals dat wel vaker gaat als je de laatste fase van je loopbaan bereikt, werd ook hij met prijzen en eretekens overladen, zoals vijf jaar geleden de ‘Gershwin Prize for Popular Song’.
 
 
432 8 Gershwin prijs

 
In de Los Angeles Times schreef Randy Lewis bij die gelegenheid: “‘His rich melodies are works of art – enduring, meaningful and powerful’, acting Librarian of Congress David S. Mao said in a statement. ‘And he is a master at crafting lyrics that speak to the heart and soul, expressing ordinary themes in an extraordinary way. It is that quality in his music that makes him one of the greatest poetic songwriters of our time’.
   Robinson will be feted at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. He joins the roster of previous Gershwin Prize recipients that includes Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, songwriting duo Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel and Willie Nelson.
 
In addition to his contributions as singer and songwriter with the Miracles and as a solo act, Robinson helped Motown Records under Berry Gordy establish the label as a musical powerhouse.
   He gave the company its first million-selling hit with ‘Shop Around’ in 1960, and later also served as as a producer and talent scout, contributing hit songs for Motown acts including the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, the Marvelettes and others.
 
The Library of Congress established the Gershwin Prize in 2007 to recognize ‘living musical artists whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with George and Ira Gershwin, by promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations’”.
 
 
Harry Knipschild
17 augustus 2021
 
Clips
 
* Jackie Wilson, Lonely Teardrops
* Miracles, Shop Around, 1965
* Smokey Robinson, Just to see her, 1987
* Jean Perez, 2013
* Gershwin-prijs voor Smokey Robinson, 2016
* Smokey Robinson, My girl, 18 november 2016
* Smokey Robinson, Black American, 2020
 
Literatuur
 
Dave Marsh, ‘Cruisin’ with Smokey’, Record Magazine, augustus 1983 
J. Randy Taraborrelli, Call her Miss Ross, New York 1989
‘Smokey Robinson reveals: how infidelity and drugs destroyed his marriage’, Ebony, mei 1989
Ken Sharp, ‘More Love for Smokey Robinson’, Goldmine, 13 mei 2008
Lisa Sweetingham, ‘Interview with Smokey Robinson’, Telegraph, 21 oktober 2009
Randy Lewis, ‘Smokey Robinson named 2016 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song honoree’, Los Angeles Times, 5 juli 2016