Smokey Robinson is a famous American singer and songwriter, who had a successful career both as part of the group “The Miracles” and as a solo artist. He was born as William Robinson, Jr. on February 19, 1940 to a poor family in Detroit. His mother died when he was very young so he was raised by his elder sister and her husband. He was an intelligent and active child who excelled academically and also played sports. However, from a very young age his real passion had been music. In high school he formed the band called the Five Chimes.
In 1955, Smokey formed a band initially called “The Matadors” along with his friends and classmates Ronald White, Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers and Claudette Rogers. After some changes to the line-up ,the group renamed itself “The Miracles” and began touring. In 1957, the band met Berry Gordy, the future CEO of Motown Records. Gordy was impressed with the band and particularly with Smokey’s vocals and songwriting skills. He offered the Miracles a record contract and their first single “Got A Job” was released in 1959. Robsinson briefly enrolled at college to study electrical engineering but dropped out after two months when his band released their first record. The Miracles became one of the first bands to be signed to Motown Records.
The band’s first hit single, which was also Motown’s first million selling record, was released in late 1960s and called “Shop Around”. Between 1960 and 1970, the group had 26 top 40 hit songs, all with Robinson as lead singer, chief songwriter and producer. The band later changed their name to “Smokey Robinson & The Miracles”. Robsinson was one of the most coveted songwriters and wrote several hits for artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Contours and Stevie Wonder. In all, he is credited with writing more than 4000 songs. He also served as the Vice President of Motown Records until 1988.
In 1972, Robinson left the band and spent a year in retirement. He had married his bandmate Claudette and wanted to help her raise their two children Berry and Tamla Robinson. After a year in retirement, Robinson released his first solo album titled “Smokey” in 1973, second album “Pure Smokey” in 1974 and “A Quiet Storm” in 1975. He struggled with his second album but the third was a massive hit and produced many hit singles. In 1988, Robinson stepped down as Vice President, and in 1990 he left Motown for good and signed up with SBK Records. The 1990s was a quiet time for him but he made a comeback in the 2000s and his latest album, “Smokey & Friends” featuring Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor among others, reached No. 12 on the Billboard album chart, the highest rating for any of his solo albums.
For a time, Smokey had a troubled personal life as he had an extramarital affair which led to divorce and his close friend Marvin Gaye died. He started using cocaine and became heavily addicted to it. He later became very religious and also became clean and sober. He has described his experiences in his autobiography titled “Inside My Life”. Robinson has been the recipient of many notable awards and honors during his lifetime. In 1987, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but the decision was controversial as his band members were left out. However, they were later inducted as well. He received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has been inducted to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He has also been awarded a medal at the National Medal of Arts, has won the Heritage Award at the Soul Train Music Awards, and been conferred the degree of Doctor of Music by Howard University. He has also won a Grammy Award and was one of the five Kennedy Center honorees in 2006.