Smokey Robinson, R&B, Singer, Songwriter and Record Producer   Leave a comment

William “Smokey” Robinson, Jr. (born February 19, 1940) is an American R&B singer-songwriter, record producer, and former record executive. Robinson is one of the primary figures associated with Motown, second only to the company’s founder, Berry Gordy. Robinson’s consistent commercial success and creative contributions to the label have earned him the title “King of Motown.” As an original member of Motown Records’ first vocal group The Miracles and as a solo artist, Robinson delivered many U.S. and U.K. Top 40 hits for Motown between 1960 and 1987. He also served as the company’s vice president from 1961 to 1988. He is currently married to Frances Robinson.


 Early years and formation of The Miracles

Robinson was born and raised in the North End neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan.

According to Entertainment Weekly, “when he was 6 or 7, his Uncle Claude christened him “Smokey Joe,” which the young William, a Western-movie enthusiast, at first assumed to be “his cowboy name for me.” Some time later, he learned the deeper significance of his nickname: It derived from smokey, a pejorative term for dark-skinned blacks. “I’m doing this,” his uncle told the light-skinned boy, “so you won’t ever forget that you’re black.”[1]

In his teens, “Smokey Joe” was shortened to “Smokey.” In an interview, Robinson stated that he has been friends with fellow Motown artist Diana Ross since she was eight years old.[2] Around this time Robinson began listening to Nolan Strong & The Diablos, a Fortune Records recording artist. Strong’s high tenor voice would be a primary influence on Robinson. In a 2008 interview with Goldmine, Robinson said: “There was a guy who lived in Detroit and had a group called The Diablos. His name was Nolan Strong. They were my favorite vocalists at that time.”

In 1955, Robinson co-founded a vocal group called The Five Chimes with his best friend Ronald White, and Northern High School classmates Pete Moore, Clarence Dawson, and James Grice. By 1957, the group was renamed the Matadors and included cousins Emerson and Bobby Rogers in place of Dawson and Grice. Emerson was replaced by his sister Claudette Rogers.Guitarist Marv Tarplin joined the group in 1958. With Robinson as lead singer, the Matadors began touring Detroit venues.

 Motown and The Miracles

After finishing high school Robinson made plans to attend college, with his studies to begin in January 1959.[3] However, in August 1958, Robinson met songwriter Berry Gordy and, as he awaited his enrollment in school, Robinson pursued his musical career with Gordy, who co-wrote for the Miracles the single “Got a Job,” an answer song to the Silhouettes’ hit single “Get a Job.” The group renamed itself the Miracles, and began recording with Gordy on the End Records label in November 1958.

Robinson has said that he did, in fact, enroll in college and began classes that January, studying electrical engineering. However, The Miracles’ first record was released a few weeks later and Robinson left school shortly thereafter, his college career having lasted approximately two months.[3]

The Miracles would go on to issue singles on both End Records and Chess Records, and Robinson suggested to Gordy that he start a label of his own.

In 1959, Gordy founded Tamla Records, which he soon reincorporated as Motown. The Miracles were among the label’s first signees. Gordy and Robinson had a synergistic relationship, with Robinson providing a foundation for Motown’s hit-making success and Gordy acting as a mentor for the budding singer and songwriter. By 1961, Gordy had appointed Robinson vice-president of Motown Records, a title Robinson held for as long as Gordy remained with the company.

The 1960 single “Shop Around” was not only Motown’s first number one hit on the R&B singles chart, but the first major chart success for The Miracles. The song was also Motown’s first million-selling hit single, and reached # 1 on the Cash Box Magazine Pop Chart.

Besides creating hits for his own group, Robinson wrote and produced singles and album tracks for other Motown artists. Mary Wells had a number one hit with Robinson’s song “My Guy” (1964), and Robinson served as The Temptations‘ primary songwriter and producer from 1963 to 1966, penning such hits as “The Way You Do the Things You Do“, “My Girl“, “Since I Lost My Baby“, and “Get Ready“. Among Robinson’s other Motown compositions are “Still Water (Love)” by The Four Tops, “Don’t Mess With Bill” and “My Baby Must Be a Magician” by The Marvelettes, “When I’m Gone” by Brenda Holloway, “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “I’ll Be Doggone” by Marvin Gaye, and “First I Look at the Purse” by The Contours.

His hit songs also earned him the title “America’s poet laureate of love.”[citation needed] During the course of his 50-year career in music, Robinson has accumulated more than 4,000 songs to his credit. John Lennon of The Beatles made countless remarks regarding Robinson’s influence on his music. In a 1969 interview, Lennon stated that one of his favorite songs was The Miracles’ “I’ve Been Good To You“, which has similar lyrics to Lennon’s “Sexy Sadie“. George Harrison also greatly admired Robinson and paid tribute to him in the 1976 song “Pure Smokey”. Additionally, “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You)” from Harrison’s Extra Texture (Read All About It) was dedicated to Robinson. (The Beatles had recorded Robinson and The Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” in 1963.) The Miracles remained a premier Motown act through most of the 1960s. The group’s billing was changed to “Smokey Robinson & the Miracles” after 1966. By 1969, the group’s fortunes began to falter, and Robinson decided to quit The Miracles so that he could remain at home with his family and concentrate on his duties as vice president. The group stopped recording and Robinson prepared to leave the group. Unexpectedly, however, their 1969 recording “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry” hit the national Billboard Pop Top 10, and when their 1967 recording of “The Tears of a Clown” was released as a single in 1970, it became a number-one hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

With the surprise success of “The Tears of a Clown”, Robinson chose to remain with The Miracles for a few more years. In 1972, however, he followed through on his original plans to leave the group, and The Miracles began a six-month farewell tour. On July 16, 1972, Smokey Robinson gave his final performance as a Miracle at the Carter Barron Amphitheater in Washington, D.C., and Robinson introduced the group’s new lead singer, Billy Griffin. The Miracles went on for a while, even having another million-seller with “Do It Baby“* (1974), a multi-million selling number one hit, “Love Machine“, in 1975, and a Platinum Album with City Of Angels that same year. (Reference: The Book Of Golden Discs- by Joseph Murrells) *

 Successful solo career

Smokey Robinson began a low-key solo career while concentrating on his duties as vice president of Motown, releasing his first solo LP, Smokey, in 1973. His first hit single, “Sweet Harmony” (1973), was dedicated to The Miracles.

In 1975, Robinson’s solo career took off with the success of the number one R&B hit “Baby That’s Backatcha”. Robinson’s 1976 single “Quiet Storm” and its accompanying album typified a genre of smooth, slow R&B that has spawned late-night radio shows called “quiet storm“. Other Robinson solo hits include “Cruisin’” (1979), “Being With You” (a global chart-topper in 1981), “Tell Me Tomorrow” (1982), and “Ebony Eyes”, a duet with labelmate Rick James (1983). He also recorded the soundtrack to the film Big Time (1977).

Later years, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, awards and accolades

During the mid-1980s, Robinson was addicted to cocaine and his recording slowed. With the help of friend Leon Kennedy (as described in Robinson’s autobiography Smokey published in 1989), Robinson was dramatically healed of his addiction at a religious service. He eventually revitalized his career, having hits in 1987 with the Grammy Award-winning “Just to See Her” (which topped the Pop, R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts in 1987) and “One Heartbeat” (Top Ten Pop, R&B, and A/C). Also in 1987, British band ABC scored a U.S. and U.K. hit with their tribute to Robinson entitled “When Smokey Sings“. In 1987, Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.[4] Controversially, the other original members of the Miracles – Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Pete Moore, Marv Tarplin, and Claudette Rogers – were not inducted.[5]

When Motown was sold to MCA in 1988, Robinson resigned from his position as vice president. After one last album for Motown, Love, Smokey (1990), Robinson left the label. He released one record for SBK Records, Double Good Everything (1991), the same year he won a Soul Train Music Award for Career Achievement. Eight years later, he returned to Motown, which by then was a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, and released Intimate (1999). The same year, Smokey Robinson received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2002, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[6]

Since then, Smokey has continued to perform and tour periodically. In 2003, Robinson served as a guest judge for American Idol during “Billy Joel Week.” He issued a gospel LP, Food for the Spirit in 2004. In 2005, Smokey Robinson was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. A new album of pop standards from the early 20th century, Timeless Love, was released in June 2006. It was originally recorded with a jazz combo, but strings were added after the fact, giving the album more of a lush sound but removing much of the jazz feeling of the disc.

In 2004, Robinson’s company, SFGL Foods, launched a special brand of gumbo called “Smokey Robinson’s ‘The Soul is in the Bowl’ Gumbo”.[7] Smokey Robinson is the spokesman of the Great American Smokeout, which takes place annually one week before Thanksgiving. It is a day when smokers quit smoking for at least a day.

Robinson has appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, the NBC daytime drama Days of our Lives, and on The Rachael Ray Show. He also appeared on Duets on Fox-TV along with Richard Marx, Aaron Neville, Cyndi Lauper, Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle, Kenny Loggins, Clint Black, Brian McKnight, Michael Bolton, Macy Gray, Randy Travis, and the legendary Dionne Warwick. Producer David Foster was a judge.

Conductor Zubin Mehta laughs with singers Dolly Parton and Robinson during a reception for the Kennedy Center honorees in the East Room of the White House on Sunday, December 3, 2006.

At its 138th Commencement Convocation in May 2006, Howard University conferred on Robinson the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa. In December 2006 Robinson was one of five Kennedy Center honorees, along with Dolly Parton (with whom Robinson had recorded a 1987 duet, “I Know You By Heart”), Zubin Mehta, Steven Spielberg and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The ceremony was held on December 3, 2006, and broadcast on CBS on December 26, 2006.

Robinson sang “The Tracks Of My Tears” as a cameo in the 2006 film Last Holiday. Also in late 2006, Robinson reunited with fellow Miracles Bobby Rogers and Pete Moore for the group’s first extended interview. This interview forms 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 11, 2007 Robinson sang “Tracks Of My Tears” at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, as part of a tribute to R&B music which included Motown labelmate Lionel Richie and current R&B star Chris Brown. Robinson was also a judge on the sixth season of American Idol and was claimed to be outdone by contestant Adam Lambert after Lambert sang “Tracks of My Tears.”[8] on Robinson performed on the sixth season finale of American Idol on May 23, 2007. Robinson and the top six male contestants performed a medley of his hits.

In November 2007, Robinson toured Australia and performed with Australian band Human Nature on the set of local television programme Dancing With The Stars. On 22 November 2007, Robinson was interviewed by Bob Rogers on Sydney radio station 2CH.[9][10][11]

On August 6, 2008, Robinson appeared at Harlem’s Apollo Theater with English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello to record a television special combining on-stage interview and performance segments.

On March 25, 2009, Robinson appeared as a mentor on the popular television show American Idol. He coached the top 10 contestants of Season 8, who performed classic Motown songs. He also premiered the first single, “You’re the One For Me”, which features Joss Stone. The song also became available on iTunes and Amazon, March 26, 2009. The song is an updated version of the song “You’re The One For Me Bobby,” which he wrote and produced for The Marvelettes in 1968 for their album “Sophisticated Soul.” On March 20, 2009, The Miracles were finally honored as a group with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Smokey was present with original Miracles members Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, (Bobby’s cousin) Claudette Rogers, and Gloria White, accepting for her husband, the late Ronnie White, whose daughter Pamela and granddaughter Maya were there representing him as well. Smokey’s replacement, 1970s Miracles lead singer, Billy Griffin was also honored. Controversially, original Miracle Marv Tarplin was not honored, against the wishes of his fellow Miracles, and the group’s fans, who felt that he should have also been there to share the honor.

On May 9, 2009, Smokey Robinson received an honorary doctorate degree and gave a commencement speech at Berklee College of Music‘s commencement ceremony.

Smokey Robinson appeared in episode 22 with Daryl Hall on Live From Daryl’s House.

On August 25, 2009 Robinson released Time Flies When You’re Having Fun. A self-produced-and-written CD of mostly new material on his own RobSo label. The CD includes a cover of the Norah Jones hit “Don’t Know Why”. Special guests on the LP include India Arie, Carlos Santana, and Joss Stone. The Joss Stone duet “You’re the one for me” was performed on American Idol. The CD also contains a homage to early Motown and Michael Jackson with the hidden bonus track “I Want You Back.”

As the finale to the BBC Electric Proms 2009, Robinson and his band appeared on 24 October with the BBC Concert Orchestra at The Roundhouse, London, in a performance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the birth of Motown Records. Brand new arrangements of Robinson’s songs had been specially commissioned by the Electric Proms.[12] The show saw him perform a mix of classics, including those written for other Motown artists as well as himself, and new material from his forthcoming ‘Time Flies When You’re Having Fun’ album.[13] While in the UK Robinson also appeared on Later with Jools Holland (Oct 20), giving a short interview and performing two songs, with Eric Clapton as a backing guitarist[14] (according to Jools Holland during the broadcast, this was at Clapton’s request when he heard that Robinson would be appearing).

Popular culture

ABC recorded a tribute song called “When Smokey Sings” that referenced his influence on the music industry. The single peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. For the week of October 3, 1987, it dropped to #8[15] as Smokey Robinson’s single “One Heartbeat” was peaking at #10.[16] That instance of having a tributor and tributee in the Billboard Top 10 at the same time was a rarity if not a unique event.. Big Country covered one of his songs, “Tracks of My Tears“.

The character C.C. White, a budding songwriter who finds success as an R&B label’s main creative force in the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, is based upon Smokey Robinson.[17] In the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls, C.C. is portrayed by Keith Robinson.

Smokey Robinson is referenced in the 1981 song “Genius of Love” by Talking Heads side project Tom Tom Club.[18]

Four of Robinson’s compositions have been voted Legendary Michigan Songs: “My Girl” in 2007, “The Tracks Of My Tears” in 2008, “My Guy” in 2009, and “Get Ready” in 2011.[19]

His song “The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirageca” is included in the film American Gigolo during the scene when Richard Gere is choosing the best suit to wear.[citation needed]

 Personal life

Smokey Robinson is married to Frances Robinson.[20] He has two children from ex wife Claudette Rogers, Berry Robinson (named after Berry Gordy) and Tamla Robinson (named after the Motown imprint for which Robinson and The Miracles recorded). He also has another son, Trey Robinson, from another relationship.[citation needed]


Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Singer

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