He is a singer-songwriter and producer born William
Robinson Jr. in North End, Detroit, Michigan, who received his nickname of
“Smokey” when his uncle used to call him “Smokey
While he was at high school in 1955 he and his friend,
Ronald White, got together with three of their classmates and formed the
singing ensemble The Five Chimes.
Two years later they renamed themselves The Matadors and replaced
two of the members. When one of
them, Emerson Rogers, had to leave the group to do his military service,
his sister Claudette took his place and she would become Smokey’s
wife in 1959.
In 1958 he became acquainted with Berry Gordy and collaborated him on the song-writing of “Got a
Job”. The Matadors
recorded this and then changed their name to The Miracles before releasing
singles on the Chess and End labels.
Before long he made the suggestion to Berry Gordy that
he start his own record label and before long Tamla Records was established. This soon changed it’s name to
Motown and The Miracles became one of the first acts signed up. They released the R&B chart No.
1 “Shop Around” in 1960 followed that same year by
“Who’s Loving You”.
Working together with Berry Gordy obviously proved
successful and when 1961 came around Smokey was made Vice President of
Motown. Over the next
decade or so The Miracles churned out 27 chart hits with many that are
still as popular today as they were then. A few of these include
“You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me”, “Ooo Baby
Baby”, “The Tracks of My Tears”, “Going to a
Go-Go” and “The Tears of a Clown”. During the early years at Motown he
also recorded in a duo with Ronnie White and their releases went out under
the guise of Ron & Bill.
Not keeping himself to just writing and recording with
the Miracles he was also the song-writer and producer for many other Motown
acts, with resultant hits such as “My Guy” by Mary Wells,
“Ain’t That Peculiar” by Marvin Gaye, “First
I Look at the Purse” by The Countours. He was also the main producer and
songwriter for The Temptations for the peiod 1963-66 when he wrote hits for
them such as “The Way You Do the Things You Do”, “Get
Ready” and “My Girl”.
During his half century of songwriting it is now
estimated that he has written in excess of 4,000 songs and he has been
named by various other songwriters and artists as an influence. George Harrison wrote “Pure
Smokey” and the group ABC had the hit “When Smokey Sings”
in tribute to him and John Lennon’s “Sexy Sadie” has been
likened to “I’ve Been Good To You” which was said to have
been a favourite of his in an interview.
Smokey remained with The Miracles until 1972 and after
having performed his final concert in Washington DC, he handed over the
reigns to Bill Griffin. From
that time on he became a solo artist while still retaining his position at
Motown Records. He released his
first single “Sweet Harmony” in 1973 and within just a couple
of years was seeing his own hits with songs that carried on through the
next decade such as “Baby That’s Backatcha”, “Quiet
Storm”, “Being With You”, “Cruisin’”
and “Tell Me Tomorrow”.
The mid-1980s were not so kind though when he became
addicted to cocaine with he and Claudette
divorcing in 1986. The
following year in 1987 he became “healed” at a religious
service and after receiving assistance from a friend. This got him back on track and soon
he saw a further chart hit with “Just to See Her” and
In 1988 he left his position at Motown when it was
taken over by MCA. He released
further albums during he 1990s and 2000s and continued to tour. He also started SFGL Foods, which
produced Smokey Robinson’s “The Soul is in the Bowl”
In 2006 he re-united with The Miracles for an extended
interview, which has since been released on the DVD Smokey Robinson
& The Miracles: The Definitive Performances. The following year he toured
Australia and appeared on their version of Dancing With the Stars
and in 2008 he appeared on a TV special with Elvis Costello.
Working with countless artists during his fifty years
in the business, he has lent his talents to Terry Callier, Ali Campbell, De
La Soul, 5th Dimension, Kenny G, Brenda Holloway, Kenny Loggins,
The Manhattan Transfer, Martha & The Vandellas, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly
Parton, Rare Earth, Billy Joe Royal, Jimmy Ruffin, Syreeta, Teena Marie,
The Velvelettes, Kim Weston and Tammy Wynette to name just a few.
Appearing on numerous albums during the course of his
career it’s not possible to list all the ones he has produced/written
for and/or appeared on as a singer, but a few of them include his own Being
With You, Deep in My Soul, Food for the Spirit, Love Breeze, One Heartbeat,
A Quiet Storm, Smokey, Smokey Robinson Gospel and Warm Thoughts as
well as Reach Out by The Four Tops, Anthology (1974) and Super
Hits by Marvin Gaye, Greatest Hits & Rare Classics by The
Isley Brothers, Cold Blooded by Rick James, Q: The Musical
Biography of Quincy Jones by Quincy Jones, Everybody Needs
Lovin’/Feeling Bluesy by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Marvelettes
Greatet Hits by The Marvelettes, Cookin’ With The Miracles,
Doin’ Mickey’s Monkey, From the Beginning, Going to a Go-Go, Hi
We’re The Miracles, I Like It Like That, Shop Around, Special
Occasion and 35th Anniversary Collection by The Miracles,
Diana’s Duets by Diana Ross, Anthology (1986) by Diana
Ross & The Supremes, David – The Unreleased Album by David
Ruffin, Emperors of Soul, Gettin’ Ready, Meet The
Temptations and Temptations Sing Smokey by The Temptations, Reservations
For Two by Dionne Warwick and Greatest Hits by Mary Wells.
Winning several awards during his career he was
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 1988 and
the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1990, received a Soul Train Music Award for
Career Achievement in 1991, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in
1999, received the US National Medal of Arts in 2002, was awarded a
Doctorate of Music by Howard University in 2006 and was an honoree at the
Kennedy Center in 2006.
He continues to tour and perform and is set to release
a new CD in 2009 as well as have a second star on the Hollywood Walk of
Fame when he is inducted with The Miracles.