January 9, 2009 at 1:00 am

Aug. 14, 1969

From the archive: Enthusiasm bursts for Smokey Robinson

"We want Smokey! We want Smokey! We want Smokey!" screamed the crowd as they pushed past barriers and police and thronged around the stage.

Only they didn't get Smokey -- at least not for long.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the feature entertainment of Sunday's I Care About Detroit Day, walked on stage, sang one song and left.

They never came back.

Too bad too, because just a couple of days before Smokey had said, "I hope there's no trouble Sunday. I hope everyone is orderly and plays it cool and has a good time."

It wasn't that there was any real trouble on the Kern block where thousands of tots, teeny boppers and teens gathered to hear their Motown idols, because there wasn't. But there could have been.

Long before the singers walked on stage, teens were pulling and pushing trying to inch their way as close to the stage as possible. Those standing in back climbed everything in sight trying to get a better view.

When Smokey Robinson and the Miracles did appear in their flamboyant orange shirts, black silk bell bottoms and black patent shoes, the crowd went wild.

They surged past their rope barriers, thronged around the foot of the stage, pulled at microphone cords and tried to touch their idols.

Smokey started to sing and the crowd continued to cheer and surge forward. He stopped, asked them to move back, started again and then, fearful the enthusiastic fans would rush the stage, left.

What happened essentially was the I Care About Detroit Day planners, who had no previous experience with concerts of this type, completely underestimated the number of persons it would draw and the excitement Smokey would generate.

Consequently the stage, a mobile band wagon sitting on stilts about four feet off the ground, proved inadequate. So did the police protection.

If she had to do it all over again, says Nancy Ferris, organizer of the show, the concert would be held on a 10-foot high stage in Tiger Stadium.

Who is this man who generates such frantic excitement in a crowd?

He's one of the vice-presidents of Motown for one thing.

He's one of the country's foremost songwriters for another. Bob Dylan has referred to Smokey as "America's greatest living poet."

In addition to writing songs for the Miracles, Smokey, 28, also writes and produces songs for the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Brenda Holloway and Marvelettes.

In addition to Motown artists, Sonny and Cher, The Rolling Stones, the Beatles and dozens of others have recorded Smokey's songs.

Although he's a star entertainer, Smokey, with his gentle nature and gentlemanly ways, doesn't consider himself a star in the old sense of the word. In person, he seems unaffected by his fame.

"You see," he explains, "I believe you are always whoever you were when the doctor slapped you on the behind.

"I've been singing with The Miracles since we were 13. We dig each other, had plenty of nothing together and now lots of something, but we're no different than when we were 13.

"Heck, this is my job," he says. "I'm an entertainer and I write songs. That's my life. Just like delivering milk is the milkman's life."

Born in Detroit, William "Smokey" Robinson attended Dwyer Elementary School and Northern High School where he played football and basketball.

While still in high school he formed Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Smokey's career really began in 1958 when het met Berry Gordy Jr. the founder and head of Motown Records.

At that time Berry was producing records but had not yet started his now multimillion-dollar recording empire.

Berry heard the group at a talent audition, hired them to do background and then began listening to the songs Smokey had written.

"He tore each one apart and showed me what was wrong with it," says Smokey.

"Then he told me how to develop a basic plot and stick to it. He explained how every song should be a complete story."

Soon after the Miracles joined forces with Berry, they recorded "Get a Job," their first hit. They've had over 30 hits since.

Smokey knows what it means to be black and poor, to grow up in a neighborhood where there are rats, roaches and bedbugs.

He knows what it means to work your way out of that kind of situation. More important, he knows what it means to be a black entertainer today.

"Black entertainers have to project a black image for their people. They have to reach their people and make them proud to be black. They have to build morale," says Smokey.

Smokey volunteered to be chairman of I Care About Detroit Day because as a native of Detroit he has a special place in his heart for the city.

"If you live here, you've gotta care, man." Says Smokey simply.

Although Smokey says Detroit is like the rest of the world, "a powder keg," he eventually hopes to see Detroit become a model city.

That, he says, can happen if the people who really care about the future of Detroit get together to reach ALL the people, to let them know they CAN get ahead if they give a damn.