Smokey Robinson is second to only Berry Gordy in the founding of Motown. A prolific songwriter, he is credited with 4,000 songs and 37 Top 40 hits, including “Tears of a Clown,” “Tracks of My Tears” and “Love Machine.” Robinson also served as vice president of Motown Records, writing and producing hits for groups such as The Temptations (“My Girl”) and Mary Wells (“My Guy”).
Singer, songwriter, and record producer Smokey Robinson was born William Robinson Jr. on February 19, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, Robinson started out singing in local groups. In the early 1950s, he formed the Matadors, which later became the world-famous group The Miracles. A chance meeting with record producer Berry Gordy Jr. led to a contract with Motown Records as well as an important working relationship.
The Miracles scored their first big hit with “Shop Around” (1960) and developed quite a following with their energetic R&B sound. The group has numerous hits, including “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (1962) and “I Second That Emotion” (1967). Robinson also worked behind the scenes, composing and producing for The Miracles and other Motown artists, such as Mary Wells and The Temptations. His work contributed to the success of Motown Records and helped advance the popularity of soul music.
Robinson went solo in 1972, creating a more mellow sound for himself. Often associated with romantic soul music, he released such successful albums as A Quiet Storm (1974) and Touch the Sky (1983). The mid-1980s were a difficult time for him as he battled drug addiction. Robinson openly discussed his cocaine problem as well as many other personal topics in his 1989 autobiography, Smokey: Inside My Life. He has credited his recovery from substance abuse to his religious faith.
Robinson went on to win his first Grammy Award as a solo artist (best R&B vocal performance) in 1987, for the song “Just To See Her” from the album One Heartbeat. His later solo recordings included Double Good Everything (1991) and Intimate (1999). He took his work in a new direction in 2004, releasing a collection of music that reflected his spiritual beliefs entitled Food for the Spirit.
Still a popular entertainer, Robinson continues to perform live. He also has been busy as a public speaker, talking to groups about his personal experiences. Exploring new business opportunities, Robinson formed a food company called Smokey Robinson Foods, which includes a line of ready-to-eat meals.
In 2006, Robinson was selected to be a Kennedy Center Honoree for his contributions to the arts and American culture and received an honorary degree from Howard University. That year, he also put out a new album, Timeless Love, which offered Robinson’s own take on several classic songs, such as Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and the Gershwin brothers’ “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”
A dedicated entertainer, Robinson continues to record new music and maintain a busy tour schedule. In 2009, he released the studio album Time Flies When You’re Having Fun. In 2012, Robinson gave an impressive performance on the television competition Dancing with the Stars. Around the same time, The Miracles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.