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Smokey Robinson – The King of Motown
William “Smokey” Robinson, Jr. earned the title “King of Motown” because of his countless hits and consistent contributions to the label he helped start.
Robinson was born on February 19, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in Detroit, Michigan’s North End. His nickname was originally “Smokey Joe” given to him by his uncle due to Robinson’s love of cowboy movies, but shortened to “Smokey” as a teenager.
Smokey Robinson established and gained fame as an American R&B and soul singer, songwriter, record producer and record executive. He was one of the men behind Motown Records, working with company founder Berry Gordy to bring success to the company.
Csodák as a group was formed in the second half of 1958, but its members were experienced performers, working for years under different names. In 1955, Robinson formed the Five Chimes with Ronald White, his best friend Peter Moore, Clarence Dawson and James Grice, former high school classmates. The group’s name was changed to the Matadors in 1957, replacing Dawson and Grice with Emerson and Bobby Rogers (his cousins). Finally, in 1958, Emerson was replaced by his sister Claudette Rogers, and Marv Tarplin joined the group as guitarist.
The newly formed Matadors went on tour in Detroit with singer Robinson. In 1958, his work with Berry Gordy began when they wrote the song “Got a Job”. They later decided to change the group’s name to Miracles and recorded under that name for End Records and Chess Records. Not long after, Robinson suggested to Gordy that the latter start his own label.
Thus began Tamla Records in 1959, founded by Gordy and later re-registered as Motown. With Robinson and Gordy working together, The Miracles were off to a good start when they signed on. They complemented each other’s talents, and Robinson’s hitting power made Gordy a more effective mentor.
On the business side, he tapped Gordy Robinson as vice president of Motown Records. Both served in their positions until Gordy left Motown. The Miracles had their first big hit in 1960 with the song Shop Around. It was Motown’s number one hit on the R&B charts and their first million-selling single. A milestone for the label and for Smokey Robinson himself.
Robinson also wrote and produced music for other artists, most of them under Motown. In 1964, he wrote “My Guy” for Mary Wells, which was a huge international hit that year. He not only wrote but also produced hits for The Temptations, including “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, “My Girl”, “Twice I Lost My Baby” and “Get Ready” in 1962 and 1966 between. composed “Still Water (Love)” for the Four Tops, “Don’t Miss with Bill” and “My Baby Must Be A Magician” for The Marvelettes, “When I’m Gone” for Brenda Holloway, “Ain’t That” Peculiar” and “I’ll Be Doggone” for Marvin Gaye, and “First I Look at the Purse” for Contours.
Smokey Robinson was greatly admired by Beatles singers such as John Lennon, who acknowledged that Smokey’s music influenced their own. In fact, The Beatles recorded Robinson and The Miracles’ “You Really Got a Hold on Me”. Bob Dylan gave him the title of “America’s Greatest Living Poet”. With more than 4,000 songs that have achieved great success thanks to his talent, he has been honored as “America’s Poet Laureate”.
Motown also had such an influence on Smokey’s personal life that he named his son Berry, the company’s founder, and his daughter Tamla, after the label they previously recorded with as a group. His wife was fellow Matadors Claudette Rogers, who replaced her brother Emerson Rogers.
By 1969, Robinson valued his family so much that he considered leaving the Miracles. During this time, the group’s popularity also plummeted, and when the band stopped recording, Robinson thought it was finally time to leave. However, a turn of events gave them some hope when their 1969 recording “Baby Baby Don’t Cry” was well received and entered the National Billboard Pop Top 10. The future became even more promising when “The Tears” Az Of A Clown” was released in 1970 and became a hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
This changed Robinson’s mind to briefly leave the band, but in 1972 he finally decided to quit The Miracles and go solo. His solo career did not get off to a good start, and most of his time was taken up by his work as vice president of Motown. However, his first solo LP, “Smokey”, released in 1973, was a partial success and included the song “Sweet Harmony”, which he dedicated to the Miracles.
This was the start of a solo career that continued with 1975’s “Baby That’s Backatcha” in the R&B genre. Other solo hits include “Cruisin'” (1979), “Being With You” (1981), “Tell Me Tomorrow” (1982) and “Ebony Eyes” (1983), a duet with Rick James. What almost never came to fruition ended up being a resounding success.
By the mid-1980s, Robinson had become addicted to cocaine, and divorced Claudette in 1986. His work suffered and it was his friend Leon Kennedy who helped him out of his predicament. He eventually recovered from his “bankruptcy”, thus giving his career another good tune.
In 1988 he won a Grammy Award for “Just to See Her” and in 1988 he published his autobiography “Smokey” and was inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” the same year.
Robinson’s days as vice president of Motown ended when he sold the label to MCA in 1988, leaving the company in 1990. In 1991, he won the “Soul Train Music Award for Career Achievement” and in 1999 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. .
Since 2000, Robinson has had some regular gigs and other activities. In 2003, he served as a guest judge on American Idol, and in 2004, he marketed Smokey Robinson’s “The Soul Is in the Bowl” Gumbo for SFGL Foods Company. He also serves as a spokesperson for “Great American Smoking.”
More recent appearances include performing at the Apollo Theater to record a TV show. In March 2009, he was seen again on Season 8 of American Idol as a mentor and coach to the top 10 contestants, and on May 9, 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Berkley College of Music.
Truly an R&B great, Smokey Robinson has seen it all and his career is a tale that most boys would consider nothing less than heroic, although the story is based on the Tamla Motown phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s, which eventually got justice. Motown.
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