Early Childhood and Inspirations
Smokey Robinson was born to a poor family from Detroit and was raised by his sister and her family after the death of his mother. In school, he was an above average student and was also a great athlete. Soon, his love for music started showing itself and he formed a doo-wop band by the name of Five Chimes. Robinson got his inspiration for pursuing music after he listened to Billy Ward and His Dominos and Nolan Strong & the Diablos on the radio. He mentioned later in an interview that his Detroit native fellow singer, Strong was his vocal influence.
The Formation of The Miracles Onwards
In the year 1955, along with his classmate Pete Moore and childhood friend Ronald White, Smokey Robinson formed, what is now considered as The Miracle’s first lineup. Initially, the band was named The Matadors. In 1957, Bobby Rogers joined the group as well and they started to tour across Detroit, which Robinson called the greatest city of the world. Later on, the band changed its name to The Miracles. In August of 1957, the members met Berry Gordy, the songwriter after they failed an audition for the Brunswick Records. Gordy instantly got impressed by Robinson’s strong vocals as well as his songwriting skills. He agreed to help the band and The Miracles were able to release their very first song, Got A Job, through End Records.
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ road to success wasn’t easy. There were a lot of failures as well as financial difficulties. After Gordy created his own record label, Tamla Records (which was later renamed Motown), the band released the single Shop Around through it, which became their first breakthrough hit and also the label’s first million selling release. This was followed by a series of hit songs such as Mickey’s Money, Baby Baby Don’t Cry and The Tracks of My Tears. No doubt, The Miracles had finally found a place in the music industry. During the 60s, Robinson was also in great demand for his songwriting skills and he wrote several songs for other artists. By the end of 60s, Robinson started voicing his opinion on it being time for him to retire from the road and concentrating more on his family and his job as Motown’s vice president. However, he didn’t leave the band for another decade. His farewell performance with the band was in Washington D.C. in July of 1972.
Retirement and Solo Career
After leaving The Miracles, Smokey Robinson took a yearlong break. His return to the music industry this time around was as a solo artist, with his album “Smokey”, released in 1973. This album also included the ballad Baby Come Close and Sweet Harmony; The Miracles’ tribute song. The Beatles legends Paul McCartney and John Lennon were also great fans of Robinson’s songwriting. He released his second studio album a year later by the name of “Pure Smokey”. Initially, with his diverted attention as well as writers block, Robinson’s solo career struggled. It was not until the early 80s that he came up with a grand hit. This was Being With You, the song that debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. There onwards, the success was the road he traveled.
In his career with The Miracles and as a solo singer, Smokey Robinson has received a number of awards and recognitions, which include his inclusion in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was also given the National Medal of Arts.