It seems fitting that Motown founder Berry Gordy and GRAMMY-winning R&B icon Smokey Robinson were jointly honored on Nov. 11 in Los Angeles with the GRAMMY Museum's first-ever Architects of Sound Awards, recognizing those who are catalysts in changing the musical legacy of America.
"Smokey and I were a bromance," quipped Gordy, who was presented with the Architects of Sound: Vision Award. "The most beautiful romance you've ever seen between two straight guys."
The two men's personal and professional lives have been intertwined for more than 50 years — since the late '50s in Detroit, where Robinson formed the Miracles as a high school student, and Gordy signed them to his fledgling Motown Records. In 1961 the Robinson-penned "Shop Around" became the label's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard R&B singles chart.
"I have never received an award or an honor that means this much to me, because tonight I'm sharing this with my best friend," said Robinson, who received the Architects of Sound: Artist Award.
The duo was honored in conjunction with the GRAMMY Museum's inaugural benefit gala. Hosted by "American Idol" mentor Randy Jackson, the event raised more than $500,000 to support programs at the Museum, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary on Dec. 6.
Perhaps the most touching moment of the evening came when Robinson launched into a song he wrote a few years back about his friendship with Gordy.
"Did you know all the joy you'd be bringing?" he sang a capella, his familiar tenor floating above the tables at Club Nokia.
The gala kicked into gear with a musical Motown tribute featuring Kelly Rowland, Michael Bolton and Boyz II Men. Rowland performed a duet with rising R&B singer Luke James on "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing," and with Bolton on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Later, Bolton tackled the Marvin Gaye classic "What's Going On."
Boyz II Men closed the evening with a richly choreographed, high-energy string of Motown hits that included "My Girl," "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," and "The Tracks Of My Tears."
Decades later, these classic songs still galvanized the crowd into a mass sing-along, and even left a few waiters dancing in the aisles.
(Denise Quan is a Los Angeles-based music journalist. Most recently, she was senior producer at CNN Entertainment, where she oversaw music coverage.)