Smokey Robinson Delivers SXSW Keynote

Motown legend Smokey Robinson delivered the keynote address on Thursday (March 18) for this year's South By Southwest Music + Media Conference, entertaining a bleary-eyed crowd of attendees with stories about meeting Berry Gordy, starting Motown, writing hits like "Shop Around" and "Cruisin'," and delving into the independent music ranks with his own label.

"It's a lot more work than I expected," Robinson told interviewer and Detroit native Dave Marsh with a laugh during the session.

Robinson also offered an interesting perpsective on his legacy, saying that a recent personal fascination with classical music has gotten him thinking. "I think how wonderful that this music is 300 years old or 400 years old, and we're still listening to it. I want to be Beethoven. I want to be Mozart...I want people to be listening to those songs (of mine) 300 years from now.

"That's my goal. When I write a song...if I had written it 50 years before, it's gonna mean something today. If I wrote it today, 50 years from now it's going to mean something...So I always want to write a song as a song."

Robinson, who's 70, also tossed aside any questions about retiring. "I don't ever plan on not doing concerts. I'm going to be the George Burns of this," he said with a laugh.

And he counseled the aspiring musicians at the conference to keep their ambitions focused on their art and not on the rewards of success.

"You did not start (music), and you will not finish it -- I've always kept that thought in mind," he explained. "I never trip on Smokey Robinson. I always remember I'm Smokey Robinson from the hood in Detroit, and I'm...fortunate and blessed to be able to do what I do. I'm never going to forget that, ever. Keep your feet on the ground -- and keep a thick skin."


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.