The annual fundraising concert put on by LaunchAbility has featured some pretty big names in its 13 years. Names like Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson. But few performers or performances have topped Monday, March 31st’s “A Special Evening With Smokey Robinson hosted by Alliance Data, Benefiting LaunchAbility,” which starred R&B legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Smokey Robinson.
Under the direction of event chairs Piper and Mike Wyatt, with Caroline Rose Hunt as honorary chair, the sold-out event attracted more than 1,800 people to the Meyerson Symphony Center in support of LaunchAbility, a nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities. Many of the guests enjoyed mingling during a pre-show reception in the Meyerson lobby, where the libations were flowing freely and the heavy hors d’oeuvres—grilled lamb chops, cheesy macaroni, tostadas—were first-rate.
Among the minglers were … Debra Nelson and John Baer, who’ve known each other since 1985 but only recently reconnected. (Debra, by the way, persuaded her pal Linda Gray to participate in one of the silent-auction packages.) … LaunchAbility CEO Kathryn Parsons, who was showing off a Jerry-Szor-made black-diamond necklace, one of the evening’s raffle prizes. … Blaine Nelson, who was chatting it up with Brad Beaird and Holly Reed of AT&T, whose company was slated to receive the evening’s Alliance Data Corporate Champion Award. … KLUV-FM personality Jody Dean, the event’s emcee, who revealed that he’d asked radio legend Ron Chapman to do something really, really big this coming September—and Ron had said, “Yes!”. … Meantime, Piper Wyatt—who disclosed that the event had sold out as of the day before—was showing off her mother Dixie, who’d come all the way over from Louisiana. … Others spotted at the reception included Ebby Halliday (looking spiffy in a sporty wheelchair), Matthew Simon, State Sen. Royce West (sitting at an AT&T table), Nancy Gopez and Shelle and Dr. Michael Sills.
Inside the main concert hall a little later, Jody welcomed everyone with the words, “I am the new starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers.” (The local nine had been battered a few hours earlier in the season opener.) And then: “Sometime in the next eight hours you’ll find yourself saying, ‘Ooo, baby, baby.’ Hopefully, you’ll be saying it to someone else.”
After the presentation of LaunchAbility’s Milton P. Levy Jr. Outstanding Volunteer Award—for the first time it went to co-recipients, Sharon Herrin and Roy Pendergrass—Smokey Robinson took the stage with backup singers and a cooking, six-piece band. Resplendent in a white suit, the 74-year-old icon performed like a 44-year-old as he worked through many of the hits from his incredible career.
He started with one of his best, “Being With You,” from the early 1980s, then followed it with “I Second That Emotion,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “Quiet Storm.” He brought the house down with a super-soulful “Ooo Baby Baby,” then later nearly topped himself with a suggestive newer song called “That Place.” Also worked in were such classics as “My Girl,” “Tears of a Clown,” “Just to See You” and “Tracks of My Tears.”
And, the audience couldn’t get enough. After a thunderous ovation for his version of “Ooo Baby Baby,” Smokey cracked, “We should have played that first!” Out in the orchestra seats, audience member Rebekah Feather turned to a reporter and said, “I hope that you write that he’s hella good. He’s still got it!”
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman