Smokey Robinson first met Ella Fitzgerald some 50 years ago and calls her “my mom, just such a wonderful lady. I loved her so much, and she was always so sweet to me.” Now he’s getting an award named in Fitzgerald’s honor.
The Motown legend will be the recipient of the 20th ELLA Award presented by the Society of Singers (SOS). The invitation-only ceremony will take place on Sept. 19 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in California, with Robinson’s longtime friend Aretha Franklin slated to receive SOS’ Legend Award and longtime session and soundtrack singer Sally Stevens getting the Voice Award. Both of the latter awards are being presented for the second time.
“I’m very honored by this,” Robinson tells Billboard.com. “Ella Fitzgerald was one of the first people that I ever heard in my life, as a baby growing up in Detroit. I had two older sisters and my mom, and they were always playing music and of course Ella Fitzgerald was one they were playing all the time. When I got the chance to meet her, man, I was so honored and flabbergasted. And she was so sweet. She acted like she had known me all of my life.”
Robinson says he’s also happy to be honored alongside Franklin. “She’s my baby,” he gushes. “I’ve known her since we were kids, y’know? I haven’t seen her in awhile, so I hope she’s there (at the ceremony).”
Video: Two Legends Sit Down at a Piano …
The ELLA has been presented since 1989 “to a select entertainer for their significant achievements in music and for their dedicated efforts to benefit the community and worldwide humanitarian causes.” Previous recipients include Natalie Cole, Herb Alpert & Lani Hall, Andy Williams, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Elton John, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Placido Domingo, Julie Andrews, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Lena Horne, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Peggy Lee, Tony Martin and Frank Sinatra.
In a statement, SOS President Erica Farber said that, “Smokey is one of the most beloved and influential figures in the history of popular music. His outstanding accomplishments as a singer, songwriter and Motown record executive have forever made an impact on American pop culture. We are delighted to present him with this award and pay tribute to his ongoing legacy after more than five decades in the music business.”
A Motown triple-threat as a performer, writer and producer, Robinson has also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Soul Train Music Award for Career Achievement and an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, both on his own and with his group, the Miracles, and he received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2006.
Robinson released a new album, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun,” in 2009 and is currently “gathering material for my next record,” although there’s no timetable in place for its release.