By JEFF KAROUB
DETROIT -- Abdul "Duke" Fakir cried joyful tears when he learned that the Four Tops will receive a lifetime achievement award Sunday at the 51st annual Grammy Awards.
He's also been on an emotional high as Motown Records, the label that recorded and released his group's biggest hits, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
But the banner year is bittersweet, as the 73-year-old entertainer marks the occasions and accolades without his longtime bandmates of more than four decades. He became the Four Tops' lone surviving original member in October, when frontman Levi Stubbs died, following the death of Renaldo "Obie" Benson in 2005 and Lawrence Payton in 1997.
"I just wish my partners were here to see the acclaim the world has given us," he said recently from the room at the Motown Historical Museum that served as the label's studio from 1959 until 1972, when the company moved to Los Angeles.
Fakir was at the Detroit museum last month to help kick off a year of festivities for the label that also spun out chart-topping hits by the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and many others.
The Four Tops, whose hits included "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and "Baby I Need Your Loving," held a distinction unmatched by most of their peers -- the original lineup lasted well into the 1990s. The group signed with Motown Records in 1963 after nine years together and produced 20 top-40 hits during the next decade.
Fakir said the quartet shared many honors over the years, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and securing a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But the group never won a Grammy and was nominated only once, for "It's All in the Game" in 1970.
"I was talking to my son just before Christmas," said Fakir, who learned about the award by phone from Recording Academy President Neil Portnow. "I was saying ... 'We've done everything possible you can do in this business. But one thing slipped away from us, and that's a Grammy.'
"About a week later, I got that call. I broke out in tears. To me, there was a little hole that was missing. Not that I wasn't grateful for what we have. But from the recording industry, we really didn't get the award that's the highest acclaim."
Fakir will be performing Sunday as part of a Four Tops tribute with Robinson, Ne-Yo and Jamie Foxx. He arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday and was scheduled to rehearse every day before the show.
Working with Robinson, whom he described as a longtime competitor and a close friend, was a thrill.
"It kind of takes you back quite a few years," he said by phone Thursday morning, after the first run-through the day before. "All we did was laugh and joke. We talked about golf the whole time."
Fakir hasn't let up despite the loss of his mates or the lure of the links. He plays about 100 shows a year with the reconstituted Tops, which includes Payton's son Lawrence Payton Jr., Ronnie McNeir, a former Motown singer and Benson's co-writer, and Theo Peoples, a one-time member of the Temptations in the 1990s.
"It's almost like an extension of the Four Tops," Fakir said.
Some artists scoff at lifetime awards, considering them consolation prizes for days gone by. Not Fakir, who sees it as a way to celebrate an enduring career forged by four high-school friends in Detroit during the 1950s.
"To me, (it's) greater than one Grammy, two or three," he said. "It says for your life ... you've done well. I just wish again, the guys were here to accept that."
The Grammy Awards will be presented live from the Staples Center on CBS.