They knew each other almost all their lives, but in the many decades that Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin shared a friendship and mutual admiration, they never made it into the studio to record.
Anyone who heard the two briefly duet on The Miracles’ “Ooh, Baby, Baby” (penned by Smokey) on a 1979 episode of Soul Train already knows how magical a vocal pairing this could be, but alas, it only materialized in that two-minute improvisation.
“We should have been a duo,” Franklin sayid, as she begins to play and ad lib on the song. “I’m telling you,” Robinson coyly replied. “It’s not too late.”
Just the thought of a Franklin-Robinson duet album brings to mind great soul pairings like Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. But unfortunately, their television appearance would end up the sole recording of the two icons performing together. “Soul Train was a wonderful memory,” Smokey told Rolling Stone, following Franklin’s death in August of this year. “It was impromptu, wasn’t planned or anything, so that made it even more special. She could sing the phone book and make it her own.”
In a recent video interview about his years at Motown, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in January, Smokey told AARP The Magazine, “[Aretha] was my close friend and I loved her very much; I still do. She was my buddy and she was one of those people I could call or she could call me and we would talk for hours about nothing.”
Speaking on the lost opportunity to record his unique vocal chemistry with Aretha for posterity, Smokey said:
“I kind of have regrets that we never recorded anything together. I’ve known her since I was eight years old. She was one of the greatest singers ever. I’m very happy for her and I’m very happy she was my lifelong friend.”
Of course, with the death of a lifelong friend comes not only regret, but understandable grief. “I’m still in recovery mode, because I love her and I’m going to miss our conversations and our getting together,” Smokey told AARP. “But I know that spiritually she’s in a better place. She was suffering at the end there, and I don’t ever want to see her suffer. So now she’s cool, and I’m cool ’cause she’s cool.”