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Smokey gets personal

By Lisa DeNeal

Post-Tribune correspondent

GARY — In celebration of Black History Month, Don Barden, president and CEO of Majestic Star Casinos, invited legendary Motown recording artist, songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson for an intimate evening of conversation.

“Up Close and Personal, A Fireside Chat with Smokey Robinson” was held at the South Shore Events Center in Gary’s Buffington Harbor on Monday.

“It is indeed an honor to have someone of his stature to grace us with his presence,” Barden said.

Barden and Robinson spent the weekend in Detroit attending the Super Bowl, with Robinson performing a concert Saturday night. “I have seen all 40 Super Bowl games and when I was with The Miracles, we performed at the first Super Bowl,” Robinson said.

Robinson shared his memories of the beginnings of the Motown Sound.

He said the years of writing songs and making music for the legendary record label included meetings about which song would become a hit. Staff would go into the streets, stopping cars and having strangers come in, listen to the songs and vote on which ones to record and release.

“When Motown began, it was five people, including myself and Berry Gordy. Berry told us in our first meeting, we are not making black music ... we are making music for the world. We are going to make great music from great stories and put those stories into music,” Robinson said.

He said the music was meant to be universal and the plan succeeded.

“We had white kids from Dearborn and Grosse Point, writing letters to us... saying, 'We have your records and we love them but we cannot tell our parents or they would make us get rid of them.’ Then later, we would receive letters from the parents, telling they knew our kids had the records... and they enjoyed our music as well — that we made them proud to have good music from Michigan,” Robinson continued.

However, Robinson said the early years of Motown drew musicians from all over the world, London, France, everywhere, to Detroit to record.

“And we would travel to their countries and make music there. ... I defy someone to say that a certain song they heard came from Detroit only! Motown was the music, wherever it was made,” Robinson said.

When asked about the use of hip-hop and black artists to promote liquor and cigarettes, Robinson said that type of advertisement was done for decades and not with just black entertainers.

“It was done long before us and will continue after us; but I never did advertisements for products I did not use. I don’t smoke, drink or eat hamburgers, so I have never promoted those products. And I do not knock the artists who do the advertisements; they are making money,” Robinson said.

Barden and Robinson also announced the debut of Robinson’s Soul Food Gumbo as a part of the menus in the restaurants at Majestic Star Casino I and II.

Robinson established his line of gumbo and other creole dishes years ago. “We have seafood gumbo and chicken gumbo, red beans and rice. I am sure the people here will enjoy all of it,” Robinson said.

Gary Mayor Scott King presented Robinson with a key to the city. “I met Smokey some years ago when he performed at the Star Plaza Theatre and he is not only a great performer, but he has a great personality and is very welcoming to his fans,” King said.

A diverse crowd of fans attended the event. Former Pittsburgh Pirates manager and Gary native Lloyd McClendon was of those fans. “I am a huge fan of Smokey; 'Tears of a Clown” and “Tracks of My Tears,” are just a couple of my favorites,” he said.

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