By Frederick H. Lowe
William “Smokey” Robinson recently testified before Congress about giving musicians greater copyright protection amid a love fest for him.
Women embraced and kissed Robinson, who is now 78. Men stood in line to enthusiastically shake his hand and hug him. Even Chuck Grassley, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the hearing, called Robinson a “legend.”
Through it all Robinson, leader of the Miracles and writer of many iconic hits, including “I Second That Emotion,” “Tears Of A Clown,” and “My Girl,” which led Nobel Peace Prize winner Bob Dylan to call him America’s greatest poet, captured the room with his bright smile and the joyful memories his songs evoked. C-SPAN broadcast the hearing.
Robinson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the support of the Music Modernization Act that would reform the way songwriters and musicians are compensated. The Act, which has unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives, would extend copyright protection to songs recorded before 1972.
“My message is simple. Musicians who recorded before February 15, 1972, deserve to be compensated the same way as those who recorded after that date,” Robinson told Judiciary Committee members.
Most of Robinson’s hit records were recorded before 1972, and although the songs are sometimes streamed 50,000 times a day, the Miracles don’t receive any compensation.
Artists now earn more from on-demand services like Spotify and Apple Music than selling CDs. Streaming services have supplanted the way people hear and buy music.
Joining Robinson in speaking before the committee were other R&B headliners, including Dionne Warwick, Mary Wilson of the Supremes and backup singer Darlene Love.