Smokey Robinson





William 'Smokey' Robinson, Jr. was born on February 19th, 1940 into a poor family in the North End area of Detroit. He attended Northern High School where he achieved above average grades and was a good athlete, though his main interest was music. At one point, he and Diana Ross lived just a few houses away from each other. Smokey formed The Matadors in 1954 with friends Warren Moore, Bobby Rodgers, Emerson Rodgers, and Ronnie White. They became established in the Detroit club scene over the next three years and changed their name to The Miracles when Emerson's sister Claudette replaced him in the line-up when he went into the Army. The Miracles first met Berry Gordy in 1957 while auditioning for Jackie Wilson's manager. Wilson turned them down, but Berry saw potential in this group. In retrospect, this may have been the most important meeting in both men's lives. Smokey needed a mentor and an outlet for his budding talents as a singer and songwriter. The ambitious Gordy needed someone with multi-faceted musical vision. Gordy encouraged and polished Robinson's songwriting in particular in the early days, in which The Miracles were one of many acts bridging the Doo Wop and early Soul eras.

Berry helped them get a recording contract with the End label, where they debuted with "Got A Job", written by Berry, Smokey, and Billy Davis in 1958. The record was a hit locally, but did not gain national attention. When Berry Gordy set up the Motown label, The Miracles were one of the first acts he signed. Their first release for Motown, "Way Over There", didn't go anywhere, but their second effort, "Shop Around" became a huge hit, making it to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and #2 on the Hot 100. This release not only put The Miracles in the national spotlight, but Motown as well, as this was the label's first million dollar seller.

Over the next seven years, The Miracles experienced great success. They became the first Motown act to appear on ABC-TV's American Bandstand in February 1961 and continued to have big hits with the songs "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" (#8), "Mickey's Monkey" (#8), "Ooo Baby Baby" (#16) and "Going To A Go-Go" (#11). Smokey and Claudette Rodgers were married on November 7th, 1959, and eventually had two children, Berry and Tamla. Claudette performed with The Miracles until 1964, when she retired to take care of her family, although she continued to record with the group. Robinson also was extremely active at Motown as a songwriter and producer for other acts, especially on the #1 singles "My Guy" for Mary Wells and "My Girl" for The Temptations. Smokey also did some excellent work with The Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye.

In 1967, The Miracles became Smokey Robinson And The Miracles and continued having huge hits "I Second That Emotion" (#4), "Baby, Baby Don't Cry" (#8) and the chart topping "Tears Of A Clown". Smokey left The Miracles in 1972 to spend more time with his family. Billy Griffin was named as his replacement at the Carter Batton Amphitheater in Washington, D.C. on July 12th during the group's farewell tour. Three years later, Smokey began working on his solo career. Without Smokey Robinson, The Miracles hit the charts two more times with "Do It Baby" hitting #13 in 1974 and "Love Machine (Part 1)" reaching #1 in 1976. In 1983, The Miracles reunited with Smokey for Motown's 25th Anniversary NBC-TV Special.

Smokey's solo career was not filled with as many consistent single hits as his time with The Miracles, however, when he did hit the charts, he did it well. "Crusin", released in 1980, hit #4 and "Being With You" reached #2 in 1982. His solo albums have been very successful and did well on the charts. Beginning in 1981, Smokey started to receive the long-term recognition he deserved. ABC's American Bandstand aired the Smokey Robinson 25th Anniversary Special and he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on January 21st, 1987. Later in the same year, he scored two more big hits, "Just To See Her" (#10) and "One Heartbeat" (#10), but in his 1988 autobiography, Smokey, revealed that he had been battling against cocaine addiction for much of the decade. In December of the following year, he was named a Grammy Living Legend, as well as being inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame by Whitney Houston on May 30th, 1990.

In 1991, after thirty years with Motown, Robinson left the label to sign with SBK Records and although no further hits resulted, he continued to appear in concert. In 1999, Smokey returned with an album called "Intimate", produced by Berry Gordy. That same year, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2002, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. The following year Robinson served as a guest judge for American Idol during Billy Joel Week. In 2004 he released a Gospel LP, "Food For The Spirit" and in '05 was inducted into the Michigan Rock And Roll Legends Hall Of Fame. A new album of Pop standards from the early 20th century called "Timeless Love" was released in June 2006. In the latter months of that year, Robinson reunited with fellow Miracles Bobby Rogers and Pete Moore for the group's first extended interview that would form the basis of the Universal Music DVD release Smokey Robinson and The Miracles: The Definitive Performances, a video retrospective of the group's music and career.

On February 11th, 2007, Robinson sang "Tracks Of My Tears" at the 49th annual Grammy Awards and in November of that year toured Australia. On August 6th, 2008, he appeared at Harlem's Apollo Theater with Elvis Costello to record a television special combining an on-stage interview and performance segments. On March 20th, 2009, The Miracles were finally honored as a group with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Smokey was present with original Miracles, Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore and Claudette Rogers, with Gloria White, accepting for her late husband, Ronnie. Five days later, Smokey Robinson appeared once again on the popular television show American Idol, where he premiered the single, "You're the One For Me". The following May, he received an honorary doctorate degree and gave a commencement speech at Berklee College of Music's commencement ceremony. On August 25th of '09, Robinson released "Time Flies When You're Having Fun", a CD of mostly new material on his own RobSo label. Special guests on the LP include India Arie, Carlos Santana, and Joss Stone, and also contained an homage to Michael Jackson with the hidden bonus track "I Want You Back". On October 24th he appeared at The Roundhouse in London, England to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of Motown Records.

On February 9th, 2012, Rolling Stone magazine announced that The Miracles as a group were finally going to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The remaining original members, Bobby Rogers, Claudette Rogers Robinson, Pete Moore, Marv Tarplin (posthumously), and Ronald White (posthumously) were enshrined. Smokey did not receive a second induction as he was admitted to The Hall back in 1987. His 1972 replacement in The Miracles, Billy Griffin, was also not included in the induction. In March, 2012, Smokey Robinson announced that he was working on two new albums, a Christmas collection and a set of songs he planed to record in Spanish. A year later, he again appeared as a mentor on US TV's American Idol where he announced an album of duets was in the works for a Fall 2013 release. In mid-May, 2014, Robinson partnered with Elton John, James Taylor and others for "Smokey And Friends", a collection of re-makes from his hit making days with The Miracles and from his solo career, scheduled to be issued the following Summer. When that album was released in August, 2014, it debuted at #12 on the Billboard 200 and became Smokey's highest charting release since 1981's "Being With You" climbed to #10.

On September 10th, 2015, former Miracles guitarist Don Griffin was killed in a car accident in Denver, Colorado. The 60-year-old musician played on the 1976 #1 hit, "Love Machine".

Smokey Robinson continued to tour across America and still had a handful of shows booked for the Southern United States in early 2017.