Among the dozens of wonderful singers, songwriters and musicians who put Detroit’s Motown Records on the music map, the silky-toned Smokey Robinson holds a crucial spot.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles — “Tears of a Clown,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Going to a Go-Go,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “I Second That Emotion” — were Motown’s first vocal group. And the group’s 1960 release, “Shop Around,” was the label’s first hit.
Robinson and the Miracles placed 44 singles in the pop charts. Fifteen of those hits went Top 20 and seven went Top 10.
Robinson wrote hits for himself and the Miracles as well as his Motown peers Mary Wells (“My Guy”), the Temptations (“My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do”) and Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t That Peculiar,” “I’ll Be Doggone”).
After his 1972 departure from the Miracles, Robinson released solo hits “Being With You,” “Just To See Her” and “Cruisin’.”
Born William Robinson Jr. in 1940, the future singing star grew up in a Detroit housing project. An uncle nicknamed him Smokey Joe, later shortened to simply Smokey. Robinson’s mother’s record collection exposed him to elegant jazz vocalists Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine and blues stars Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
By his teens, Robinson was performing in groups with his friends. He sang with the Five Chimes, the Matadors and, by the late ’50s, the Miracles, featuring his future wife, Claudette Rogers.
Robinson met songwriter Berry Gordy in 1958. Their business collaboration resulted in Miracles records being released by various labels. Because the records didn’t succeed on a national scale, Robinson encouraged Gordy to start his own company.
Gordy founded Motown Records, the Detroit label that experienced stunning success through the 1960s and ’70s.
The labels hit acts included Robinson and the Miracles, the Marvelettes, the Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.
Robinson, 73, continues to perform throughout the world. His upcoming gigs include a Sept. 8 appearance in London at BBC Radio 2’s “Live In Hyde Park 2013.”
In July, Robinson announced that he’ll record a new album produced by Randy Jackson, the former “American Idol” judge and former Baton Rougean.
“Randy is a longtime friend, a great musician and an amazing, experienced record producer,” Robinson said in a statement. “I’m honored and happy to be working with him. He’s my brother.”
“It’s my utmost pleasure to produce this amazing duets record with the legend Smokey Robinson,” Jackson said. “He is one of the most incredible songwriters of all time. It’s going to be hot!”
Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He received a lifetime achievement Grammy award in 1990, the National Medal of the Arts award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors award in 2006.
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