William “Smokey” Robinson was an American singer, songwriter, producer and vice president of Motown. He was with the company from its inception until it was sold in 1988.
He grew up in a poor family in Detroit, and developed a keen interest in music, forming the doo-wop group which would become The Miracles. Smokey met Berry Gordy in 1957 after a failed audition for Brunswick Records (the label Jackie Wilson was signed to). Berry was impressed by his vocals and songwriting ability, and Smokey (as lead singer of The Miracles) became of Motown’s first signings.
He lead the group through an incredibly successful period, scoring numerous Top Ten and Top Twenty hits throughout the 1960s. He was a top songwriter and producer at Motown as well, penning hits for acts like Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Marvelettes. He had also became Motown vice-president in the mid-1960s. (You cannot get more Motown than Smokey – he married Miracles member Claudette and named their children “Berry”, after Motown’s founder Berry Gordy, and daughter “Tamla”, after the original Tamla label that would become Motown.)
By 1969, Robinson wanted to retire from touring to focus on family life, and on his duties as Motown’s vice-president, and eventually left The Miracles in 1972. He then staged a solo comeback career, which began slowly and saw several unsuccessful albums in the late 1970s (due to his focusing on work as Motown VP). But the late 1970s and early 1980s saw Smokey achieve huge solo success, with hits like “Cruisin'” and “Being With You” reaching the Pop Top 10.
Despite the period of personal and professional problems that followed (otherwise known as an addiction to cocaine), he made a huge comeback in the late 1980s, before leaving his position as Motown vice-president when the company was sold to MCA in 1988. Although he remained quiet throughout the 1990s, he has since continued to release material throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s, under various labels.
(By the way, his “Smokey” nickname was given to him by his uncle. Apparently they were really close and liked watching cowboy movies together, so his uncle gave him the cowboy name “Smokey Joe”. He dropped the “Joe” part and soon became known simply as “Smokey”.)
Marvellous Motown currently recommends three songs by Smokey Robinson – click on the link above for our archive or click on a specific song below: