Famous Like Me > Singer > R > Smokey Robinson
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Profile of Smokey Robinson
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|Also Know As:
||William Robinson, Jr.
|Date of Birth:
||19th February 1940
|Place of Birth:
||Detroit, Michigan, USA
William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr. (born February 19, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan) is an American R&B and soul singer and songwriter. Robinson is noted for being one of the primary figures associated with the Motown record label, second only to the company's founder, Berry Gordy. As both a member of Motown group The Miracles and a solo artist, Robinson recorded seventy Top 40 hits for Motown between 1959 and 1990, and also served as the company's vice-president from 1961 to 1988.
Early years and formation of the Miracles
Robinson was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and was nicknamed "Smokey" as a child because of his love of westerns. In 1955, Robinson founded a group he called "The Five Chimes" with his best friend Ronnie White, and Northwestern High School classmates Pete Moore, Clarence Dawson, and James Grice. By 1957, the group was called "The Matadors" and included cousins Bobby Rogers and Claudette Rogers in place of Dawson and Grice. With Robinson as lead singer, the Matadors began touring the local Detroit venues. a few somewhat successful singles on End Records and Chess Records. In 1958, Robinson met songwriter Berry Gordy, Jr., who co-wrote for them the single "Got a Job", an answer song to The Silhouettes' hit single "Get A Job". The group renamed itself The Miracles, and issued singles on both End Records and Chess Records before Robinson suggested to Berry 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.
Motown and the Miracles
The 1960s single "Shop Around" was Motown's first #1 hit on the R&B singles chart, and the first big hit for the Miracles. Many other hits over the years, among them "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (1962), "Mickey's Monkey" (1963), "Ooo Baby Baby (1965), "The Tracks of My Tears" (1965), "Going to a Go-Go" (1965), "More Love" (1967), and "I Second That Emotion" (1967).
Besides penning hits for his own group, Robinson also wrote and produced many hits and album tracks for the other Motown artists. Mary Wells had a big hit with the Robinson-penned "My Guy" (1964), and Robinson served as The Temptations primary songwriter and producer from 1963 to 1966, during which period they recorded hits such as "The Way You Do the Things You Do", "My Girl", "Since I Lost My Baby", and "Get Ready". Among Robinson's numerous other Motown compositions are "Still Water (Love)" by The Four Tops, "Don't Mess With Bill" 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.
Fellow singer/songwriter Bob Dylan described Robinson as "America's greatest living poet." Robinson's numerous hit ballads also earned him the title "America's poet laureate of love." Over the course of his almost 50-year career in music, Robinson has over 4,000 songs to his credit.
After marrying Claudette Rogers, Robinson started a family, and named both of his children after Motown: his son was named Bery after the company's founder, and his daughter was named Tamla after the very label Robinson and the Miracles recorded for.
The Miracles remained a premier Motown act through most of the first two-thirds of the 1960s. Albums were released as "Smokey Robinson & the Miracles" after 1965. By 1969, the group's fortunes had begun to falter somewhat, 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. Recording stopped, and Robinson was prepared to leave the group when their 1967 recording "The Tears of a Clown" was released as a single and became a #1 hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Due to the success of "Tears of a Clown", Robinson was convinced to remain with the Miracles for a few more years. In 1972, 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 and Claudette Robinson gave their final performances as Miracles at the Carter Barron Amphitheater in Washington, DC, and Robinson introduced the group's new lead singer, Billy Griffin. The Miracles went on for a while, even having another #1 hit, "Love Machine", in 1976.
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 went into full-drive after the success of the #1 R&B hit "Baby That's Backatcha". Robinson's 1976 single "Quiet Storm" and its accompanying album typified a smooth, slow style of R&B that is today called "quiet storm" after the song. Future Robinson solo hits included "Crusin'" in 1979, "Being With You" (a U.K. #1 hit) in 1981, "Tell Me Tomorrow" in 1982, and "Ebony Eyes", a duet with labelmate Rick James, in 1983. He also recorded the soundtrack to the film Big Time in 1977.
During the mid-1980s, Robinson began to fall victim to an addiction to cocaine. His recording slowed, and his marriage to Claudette faultered; the two were divorced in 1986. Robinson eventually overcame the addiction and revitalized his career, scoring hits in 1987 with "Just To See Her" and "One Heartbeat". In 1988, Robinson published his autobiography, Smokey, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Upon Motown's sale to MCA the same year, Robinson resigned from his position as vice-president. After one last album for Motown, 1990's Love, Smokey, Robinson departed the company. He'd release one record for SBK Records, which was released in 1991 and returned to Motown eight years later to release his most recent studio effort, 1999's "Intimate" before departing from the label again after the millennium hit.
Since then, Robinson has continued to periodically perform and tour. His most recent album, the gospel LP Food for the Spirit, was released in 2004. In 2003, Robinson served as a guest judge for American Idol during "Billy Joel Week". Robinson's comapny SFGL Foods markets a special brand of gumbo, "Smokey Robinson's 'The Soul is in the Bowl' Gumbo".
- Tamla (Motown) releases
- 1973: Smokey
- 1974: Pure Smokey
- 1975: A Quiet Storm
- 1976: Smokey's Family Robinson
- 1977: Deep in My Soul
- 1977: Big Time Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
- 1978: Love Breeze
- 1978: Smokin' Motown
- 1979: Where There's Smoke...
- 1980: Warm Thoughts
- 1981: Being With You
- 1982: Yes It's You Lady
- 1983: Touch the Sky
- 1984: Essar
- 1986: Smoke Signals
- Motown releases
- 1987: One Heartbeat
- 1990: Love, Smokey
- Later releases
- 1991: Double Good Everything (SBK Records)
- 1999: Intimate (Universal Records)
- 1999: Our Very Best Christmas (Universal Records)
- 2004: Food for the Spirit (Liquid 8 Records)
- Tamla (Motown) releases
- 1973: "Sweet Harmony" (US #48, R&B #31)
- 1974: "Baby Come Close" (US#27, R&B #7)
- 1975: "Baby That's Backatcha" (US #26, R&B #1)
- 1975: "I Am I Am" (US #56, R&B #7)
- 1975: "The Agony And The Ecstasy" (US #36, R&B #7)
- 1976: "Open" (US #81, R&B #10)
- 1976: "Quiet Storm" (US #61, R&B #25)
- 1977: "There Will Come A Day (I'm Gonna Happen To You)" (US #42, R&B #7)
- 1977: "Vitamin U" (R&B #18)
- 1978: "Daylight and Darkness" (US #75)
- 1979: "Cruisin'" (US #4, R&B #4)
- 1979: "Get Ready" (R&B #82)
- 1980: "Heavy On Pride (Light On Love)" (R&B #34)
- 1980: "Let Me Be The Clock" (US #31, R&B #4)
- 1981: "Being With You" (US #2, R&B #1)
- 1981: "You Are Forever" (US #59)
- 1982: "Old Fashioned Love" (US #60, R&B #17)
- 1982: "Tell Me Tomorrow - Part I" (US #33, R&B #3)
- 1983: "Blame It On Love" (US #48, R&B #35)
- 1983: "Don't Play Another Love Song" (R&B #75)
- 1983: "I've Made Love To You a Thousand Times" (R&B #8)
- 1983: "Touch The Sky" (R&B #68)
- 1984: "I Can't Find" (R&B #41)
- 1986: "Hold on to Your Love" (R&B #11)
- 1986: "Sleepless Nights" (R&B #51)
- 1987: "Just to See Her" (US #8, R&B #2)
- Motown releases
- 1987: "One Heartbeat" (US #3, R&B #10) 3
- 1987: "What's Too Much" (US #79, R&B #16)
- 1988: "Love Don't Give Go Reason" (R&B #31)
- 1990: "Everything You Touch" (R&B #4)
- Later releases
- 1992: "I Love Your Face" (R&B #57, SBK Records)
- 1999: "Easy to Love" (R&B #67, Universal Records)
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