MusiCares MAP Fund feted longtime singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his continued support and commitment to helping fellow artists recovering from addiction. The night honored him with tribute performances by the Backstreet Boys, Tamar Braxton, Kem, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, CeeLo Green and Andra Day on Thursday night at The Novo by Microsoft in downtown Los Angeles.
The crowd sang along with the performers to some of the most popular songs penned by the honoree throughout his career — from “Shop Around” with The Miracles to his break as a solo artist and producer at Motown Records. The musical guests were able to choose their songs to serenade Robinson, who was seated front and center on a couch next to longtime collaborator and Motown founder Berry Gordy (who also took the stage to say some kind words about his best friend). Songs that filled the intimate concert hall included “Cruisin,'” “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “Ooo Baby Baby.”
Edmonds admitted to the room that he was nervous onstage performing in front of his musical heroes Gordy and Robinson. The Grammy winner even had to start his song again, sharing that the first song that he had ever sung on stage was Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You” in the sixth grade.
“Hold on, wait,” he interrupted. “I’m in 1965 and I’m going to do this right, because I’m auditioning to be on Motown.”
Soon after Edmonds left the stage, he received a standing ovation from Robinson, Gordy and Magic Johnson, who was also sitting front and center, along with actress Angela Bassett, who later presented Robinson with his award. With the crowd still standing, emcee Cedric the Entertainer quipped, “I can’t believe there isn’t a pair of panties up here [on stage].”
Before the crowd took a trip to Hitsville, U.S.A., MusiCares educated the audience on its mission and the $12 million that it’s raised to assist musicians with addiction recovery and emergency financial assistance. A video showed testimonials from artists who were given aid by MusiCares and the memorial fund for recording artists in honor of the late DJ AM.
Robinson wasn’t coy at all when talking about the insurmountable problem that has taken hold of some great musical artists. He shared an anecdote of himself during his two-and-half years struggling with substance abuse, which he described as “the darkest point of my life.”
“Kenny Edmonds, I’ve been wanting to tell you this for years, when I first met Kenny … I was so high that day,” Robinson shared. “I was so embarrassed that I never got a chance to apologize for that, and I take tonight to do that.”
“I’m not ashamed to talk about it because I feel like if I talk about it, then I can help some people,” he added. “If I’m silent and try to make it a secret then I’m not helping anybody.”
The benefit closed with the honoree performing onstage with the back up vocalists and band that he still tours with. During his final performance, “My Girl,” the 76-year-old singer proceeded to do the same signature dance moves performed by The Temptations back when the song gained popularity in 1964.