The genius of William ”Smokey” Robinson, Jr., the most prolific singer-songwriter of our lifetime, is priceless. A thousand years from now you will hear Smokey’s music. To prove my point, “My Girl” first recorded by the Temptations is timeless and the recording sounds as fresh today as it did in 1965. Smokey is also a record producer, former record executive, and one of the founders of the music label that changed the world – Motown.
Robinson is most notable for being a songwriter, sure, but he was also the founder and front man of The Miracles, for which he also served as the group’s chief songwriter and producer. Robinson led the group from its 1955 origins as The Five Chimes until 1972 when he announced a retirement from the stage to focus on his role as Motown’s vice president.
Smokey was born in Detroit and raised on the city’s North End section. At one point, he and Diana Ross were next-door neighbors; he said he has known Ross since she was eight. He later told reporters when he was a child; his uncle christened him “Smokey Joe”, which he assumed was a “cowboy name for me” until he was later told that Smokey was a pejorative term for dark-skinned blacks. He once said that he remembers his uncle saying to him, “I’m doing this so you won’t ever forget that you’re black.”
In August 1958, Robinson met songwriter Berry Gordy, who had recently stopped writing songs for Jackie Wilson after getting into a royalty dispute with Wilson’s label. Gordy took an interest in Smokey and his group to which Gordy was more impressed at the fact that Robinson was a writer than as a singer. Gordy agreed to work with them and with his help; the Matadors released their first single. Following this, the group changed its name to The Miracles after Claudette Rogers replaced Emerson Rogers.
After a number of failures and difficulties with money, Smokey suggested to Gordy that he start his own label, which Gordy agreed. Following the forming of Tamla Records, later reincorporated as Motown, the Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the label. In late 1960, the group recorded their first hit single, “Shop Around”, which became Motown’s first million-selling single. Between 1960 and 1970, Smokey would produce 26 top forty hits with the Miracles.
By 1969, Robinson had voiced his opinion on wanting to retire from the road to focus on raising a family with wife Claudette and their two children, and to also focus his duties as Motown’s vice president. However, the late success of the group’s track, “Tears of a Clown”, caused Robinson to stay with the group until 1972. Robinson’s last performance with the group was in July 1972 in Washington DC.
After a year of retirement, Smokey announced his comeback with the release of the album simply titled “Smokey” in 1973. The album included the Miracles tribute song, “Sweet Harmony” and the hit ballad “Baby Come Close”. That same year, former Beatle George featured the track “Pure Smokey” as a tribute to his idol. In 1974, Robinson’s second album, Pure Smokey was released but failed to produce hits.
Robinson answered his critics the following year with A Quiet Storm, released in 1975. The album launched three singles – the number-one R&B hit “Baby That’s Backatcha”, “The Agony & The Ecstasy” and “Quiet Storm”. With his nearly sixty years in the music industry, he is still one of the most respected and gifted musicians to grace the stage or play the game.
Try to imagine for a moment what the world would be like if we had never been blessed with the legend known by the name – “Smokey” – we love you and thank you for paving the way. God Bless you and that is my Thought Provoking Perspective…