- Robinson, Smokey, and the Miracles
▪ American singer-songwriterIntroductionAmerican vocal group that helped define the Motown sound of the 1960s; led by one of the most gifted, influential singer-songwriters in 20th-century popular music. In addition to Smokey Robinson, byname of William Robinson (b. Feb. 19, 1940, Detroit, Mich., U.S.), the principal members of the group were Warren Moore (b. Nov. 19, 1939, Detroit), Bobby Rogers (b. Feb. 19, 1940, Detroit), Ronnie White (b. April 5, 1939, Detroit), and Claudette Rogers (b. 1942). Whether writing for fellow artists Mary Wells, the Temptations (Temptations, the), or Marvin Gaye (Gaye, Marvin) or performing with the Miracles, singer-lyricist-arranger-producer Robinson created songs that were supremely balanced between the joy and pain of love. At once playful and passionate, Robinson's graceful lyrics led Bob Dylan (Dylan, Bob) to call him “America's greatest living poet.”Coming of age in the doo-wop era and deeply influenced by jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan (Vaughan, Sarah), Robinson formed the Five Chimes with school friends in the mid-1950s. After some personnel changes, the group, as the Matadors, auditioned unsuccessfully for Jackie Wilson (Wilson, Jackie)'s manager; however, they greatly impressed Wilson's songwriter Berry Gordy (Gordy, Berry, Jr.), who soon became their manager and producer. Most importantly, Gordy became Robinson's mentor, harnessing his prodigious but unformed composing talents, and Robinson, assisted by the Miracles, became Gordy's inspiration for the creation of Motown Records (Motown).With the arrival of Claudette Rogers, the group changed its name to the Miracles and released “Got a Job” on End Records in 1958. The Miracles struggled onstage in their first performance at the that year, but good fortune came their way in the form of Marv Tarplin, guitarist for the Primettes, who were led by Robinson's friend Diana Ross. Tarplin became an honorary (but essential) Miracle, while Robinson introduced Gordy to the Primettes, who soon became the Supremes (Supremes, the). In 1959 Robinson and Claudette Rogers were married, and “Bad Girl,” licensed to , peaked nationally at number 93. The fiery “Way Over There” and the shimmering “(You Can) Depend on Me” were followed in 1960 by “Shop Around,” the second version of which became an enormous hit, reaching number one on the rhythm-and-blues charts and number two on the pop charts.While Robinson was writing such vital songs as “My Guy” for Mary Wells, “I'll Be Doggone” for Marvin Gaye, and “My Girl” for the Temptations, he and the Miracles proceeded to record stunning compositions, including “You've Really Got a Hold on Me” (1962), “I'll Try Something New” (1962), “Ooo Baby Baby” (1965), “Choosey Beggar” (1965), “The Tracks of My Tears” (1965), and “More Love” (1967, written following the premature birth and death of Robinson's twin daughters). The Miracles complemented their songs of aching romance and mature love with buoyant numbers such as “Mickey's Monkey” (1963), “Going to a Go-Go” (1965), “I Second That Emotion” (1967), and “The Tears of a Clown” (1970).In 1972 Robinson left the Miracles to pursue a solo career. Without him, the Miracles enjoyed moderate success in subsequent years (the disco-era “Love Machine [Part 1]” hit number one on the pop charts in 1975), while Robinson produced such solo hits as “Cruisin'” (1979) and “Being with You” (1981). He also unintentionally inspired the new soul radio format that took its name from the title track of his 1975 conceptual album A Quiet Storm. Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.Representative WorksThe Miracles● Hi, We're the Miracles (1961)● Recorded Live on Stage (1963)● Doin' Mickey's Monkey (1963)Smokey Robinson and the Miracles● Going to a Go-Go (1965)● Make it Happen (1967, rereleased as Tears of a Clown, 1970)● One Dozen Roses (1971)Smokey Robinson● A Quiet Storm (1975)Additional ReadingNelson George, Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound (1985), provides a detailed analysis of the inner workings of Motown Records and illustrates the essential role Robinson played in building Motown's “hit factory” with Berry Gordy. Gerri Hirshey, “Still Smokin',” in her Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music (1984, reissued 1994), pp. 129–139, an informal interview with Robinson in his hotel room, yields many memories and observations of his life and career. Smokey Robinson and David Ritz, Smokey: Inside My Life (1989), chronicles Robinson's history with the Miracles at Motown Records and as a solo artist and contains candid commentary on the more personal aspects of his life, including family and friends, extramarital affairs, and drug addiction.
* * *