Children's Book: 'Claudette's Miraculous Motown Adventure'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And finally today, a new children's book from a legendary singer.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I SECOND THAT EMOTION")
SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES: (Singing) ...A lifetime of devotion, I second that emotion.
MARTIN: Claudette Robinson spent years as a member of the Motown group The Miracles. She was the first female singer signed to the legendary label - just one reason she was dubbed the first lady of Motown by its founder, Berry Gordy Jr. And even after she stopped touring, she continued to sing in studio sessions. Now she's a grandmother. She spends her time with family, doing philanthropy and sharing memories for those filmmakers and others who want to capture the history of that groundbreaking record label. But now she has a new project of her own. It is a children's book entitled "Claudette's Miraculous Motown Adventure." And she's here with us now to tell us more about it.
Claudette Robinson, thank you so much for joining us.
CLAUDETTE ROBINSON: Well, thank you for having me. And I'm really excited about the book. It's kind of like a fantasy story of how I became first lady of Motown.
MARTIN: Well, it is a...
MARTIN: It is a fun, colorful book, but you could have picked any number of ways to tell that story. I'm sure a lot of people are interested in your story. Why did you decide to do a children's book?
ROBINSON: Well, children are my love. I have volunteered in classrooms for about 30 years, so I do love children. And so I thought, you know, Motown has now been around for 60 years. And many of the people that are growing up now have no idea about, you know, the story of all the different artists. So I thought, well, this would be a way of getting the story out to them in a fun way so that they could enjoy it.
MARTIN: What are you trying to convey through the story? I mean, Claudette is basically - not just Claudette, but her family - they're being kind of besieged by negative energy. Let's put it that way.
MARTIN: And the song, the singers, the group, kind of banish that negativity. What are you going for with this story?
ROBINSON: Well, I'm going for that people really need to find love, be happy and be kind. And I know that sometimes people don't recognize the importance of that. And when clouds - something is clouded over by, in this case, the witch comes and just casts a spell over the entire town of Motown and where Claudette - little Claudette lives, it becomes a problem to - for the kids to be able to go outside and play and enjoy themselves and all.
And now, when this - she is able to go, and she finds these four little fellows who are Smokey, Bobby, Ronnie and Pete, and then they start singing and bring about the music - because music casts away many, many negativities. It's just something that can make you happy.
MARTIN: You released the song "Shop Around" with the miracles in 1960. I think it was - do I have this right? - it was Motown's first song to sell more than a million records.
ROBINSON: It was Motown's first million-seller.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOP AROUND")
THE MIRACLES: (Singing) You better shop around. Shop, shop, shop, oh, yeah, you better shop around. Shop, shop.
MARTIN: Did you think at the time - did you feel like you had something special there?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, when you're recording, every song that you do you're thinking it's going to be a great one. However, I wasn't sure if it would become a million-seller. But I was surprised because they actually surprised us on stage. We were at the Michigan State Fair performing. And all of a sudden, they stopped the music. And Mr. Gordy and several of the administrators of Motown came on stage with the plaque and presented it to us. So we were just really in shock and excited - really, really excited.
MARTIN: I understand that you actually thought about being a teacher. Is that right?
ROBINSON: That was my intention, is that I wanted to be a schoolteacher. And I think that's the reason that I volunteered in the classrooms for practically 30 years. I did it for my children, Berry and Tamla. And then for my oldest granddaughter, Lyric, I graduated with her.
ROBINSON: She just - oh, my god. She just graduated from USC this past May. I felt as though I had graduated along with her (laughter).
MARTIN: You know, your kids and your grandkids particularly have a very different life that you had. I mean, they - how could they possibly know, you know, what that was like cramming six of you into a car, doing - I don't know how many shows you'd do a night going from city to city - you know, from town to town, you know, driving - none of these, you know, tricked-out RVs and tour buses that they have now.
MARTIN: I mean, none of that, right?
ROBINSON: No. No.
MARTIN: They have no idea what that's like. And I wonder, you know, when you look at artists today, do you - is there any time you ever want to say to them, look, this is how it was? And is there something you want them to know about how it was that you really particularly want to pass on?
ROBINSON: Well, you know, it kind of reverses itself because when I've met younger artists or artists of today, and if they meet me, then they're the ones who are asking the questions about how it was it rather than me, you know, bringing it up first because it's not a thing that it was such a terrible situation that went on because we as well as many others - because I heard you say how many shows.
Well, when we did the theaters like the Apollo, the Uptown, the Royal and the Regal, all those theaters that we did - that was just a circuit that we did. Most of the time, the shows were four shows a day, sometimes five. And if it was holiday time, you might do as many as six shows in one day.
MARTIN: Oh (laughter). OK.
ROBINSON: But you know what? You'd have to be young to do that because I tell you, if someone told me today, well, you're going to do five shows tonight, I'm, like, yeah, OK. I'll see you tomorrow (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TEARS OF A CLOWN")
SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Why did you go? I need you so. Want you to know it's just a show.
MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, as you mentioned, Motown is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year. What do you hope that young people know about Motown? What do you hope its legacy will be?
ROBINSON: Well, my hope for the legacy of Motown is that, number one, it will be remembered forever. Somehow, it will be that people will recognize the work that all the artists - you know, because as we were the first, there's so many amazing other artists they came after us. And I'm grateful and thankful for that. That Mr. Gordy's note - what he would always say is it is not black music. It was only made by black people. And so the music is for everyone and for it to be remembered not only just as we speak, 2019, but in the year 3019 - that somehow, some way, people will know the artists, who they were and what they tried to do to make the world a better place.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE MIRACLES' "YOU'VE REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME")
MARTIN: That was singer Claudette Robinson. Her children's book, "Claudette's Miraculous Motown Adventure," is out now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE REALLY GOT A HOLD ON ME")
THE MIRACLES: (Singing) Don't want to stay here, don't want to spend... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.