Smokey Robinson Returns to the Apollo as He Jokes 'Retiring Didn't Work for Me, Man' (Exclusive)

Motown legend Smokey Robinson doesn’t plan to set his microphone down any time soon

Published Time: 29.06.2024 - 07:31:09 Modified Time: 29.06.2024 - 07:31:09

Motown legend Smokey Robinson doesn’t plan to set his microphone down any time soon.

At age 84 and boasting a seven-decade-long performing career, the legendary singer, songwriter, producer and executive who shaped and defined the soulful R&B sound of the iconic Detroit-based record label is still going strong, recording new music and touring across the country, including a stint at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater on Saturday, June 29.

"I tried retiring one time and it didn't work for me, man," Robinson tells PEOPLE exclusively, referencing a one-year break he took way back in 1972 — after scoring huge hits alongside his band The Miracles with songs including "Shop Around," "Tracks of My Tears," "You Really Got a Hold On Me," "Tears of a Clown" and "I Second That Emotion," along with chart-toppers for labelmates like The Supremes, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye — to focus on family and his executive role at Motown.

It didn’t stick. He stayed at Motown until 1990, scoring another host of mid-career hits like "Crusin'" and hasn’t stepped away from the recording booth or the performance stage since. "I'm living my impossible childhood dream," he says. "I'm doing what I love, and it's a blessing."

The singer, who’s famously been committed to his health and fitness for decades, says one of the reasons he’s remained vital, vibrant and creatively engaged is because of his all-encompassing love of music. 

"I love music, and I always have, before I even knew that I was ever going to have a career," he reflects. "Fortunately for me, I grew up in a home where there was always music. I grew up in a music home. I had two older sisters and my mom, and they were always playing music — blues, gospel, jazz, classical, everything. I grew up with a great dose of music, and I've always loved music. Music is very, very, very essential through my life and in my life. So yeah, man, I'm a music lover!"

After a lifetime of extraordinary success and never-imagined experiences, Robinson says that today the thrill he takes in making music "is the fact that I'm still doing it…I try retiring and nothing matches it for me. Nothing gives me that same thing as being on stage and being with people and having a good time."

The singer-songwriter credits his long-standing avoidance of a fast-living, hard-partying lifestyle for fueling his longevity and allowing him to soak in the joy of performing. "When you're in show business, people think that that's all you do: you're in show business and your party and that's it, and that's your whole life is partying. Invariably, somebody would come backstage when I was doing it after the shows and say, ‘OK, Smokey, now where's the party?’ I would tell them, ‘I just had the party! I -

just had the party for two hours. That was a party to me. I was having a great time, so I just had the party. Now, I'm going back to my hotel room and watch some TV and fall asleep.'"

He's especially looking forward to returning to the stage at the Apollo, and reveling in the legacy the theater has built over nearly a century of spotlighting standout Black performers.

"The Apollo is very, very, very precious to me," he says. "The Apollo is the granddaddy of Black music. Ella Fitzgerald won the talent show at the Apollo — that's how she became popular. They played all the Black artists for eons – people that were born before my mother! The Apollo is known for that. The Apollo is that place… It's traditional for Black music. Ii's been the stepping stone for so many Black artists, and I just think that it's a wonderful place for me because of that."

"Also, it is the very first professional date that I ever played with The Miracles," he recalls. "We were on the Ray Charles show at the Apollo Theater…In the lobby there, there's a mural on the wall with all of these Black artists from way back when to modern day on that wall. So when we first walked in there, I told The Miracles, ‘Gosh, one day I hope we're on that wall.’ We finally made the wall!"

"So it's sentimental for me, and they're getting ready to shut it down now for three, four years, so I want to play it before they do that, and I would always go back and play the Apollo…It is a special place for me, and there's no place like it."

Robinson says audiences won’t just hear him perform his long list of indelible classics; there’ll also be plenty of fresh music from his most recent studio album, in which he added a spicier, sexier flavor to his signature that raised eyebrows among some longtime fans.

"I just had an album just come out about fourteen months ago called Gasms — yeah, I said Gasms!” he laughs. "It's out now and it's doing well, and we're playing music from that in our live shows. At the same time we were working on that one, we were working on one in Spanish. I got two more tunes to finish for that."

"I'm always working on music, man,” he says of his tireless creative work ethic. "I do it all the time."

"There are two days that are profound in my life: the day I met Berry Gordy and the day he started Motown," Robinson reflects. "I've had a wonderful, wonderful life, man, and so many wonderful events and things that happened. There's been a lot of negative too, but the positive outweighs the negative as far as I'm concerned."

Tickets for Smokey Robinson's night at the Apollo are available here.

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