Indeed, despite the wispy nickname, this man's talents are rock-solid!
His prowess as a composer-lyricist became as much a trademark as his falsetto. His beguiling hooks, metaphors, and emotional honesty remained constant even as he veered away from old formulas. Similarly named songs like "My Guy" and "My Girl," for instance, both became hits, but they clearly differ in melody, tone, and story.
William Robinson's story began in Detroit on February 19, 1940. At age 3, his father left his family. Orphaned at 10, he fell under the guardianship of an older sister, but lived with relatives in a crowded household.
He enjoyed school, especially the subject of poetry. His decision to trade college for a singing career, however, displeased his family.
As a teen, he'd already found allies who could back him up. The Five Chimes-turned-Matadors ended up losing and replacing four members before settling on Warren "Pete" Moore, Ronnie White, and cousins Bobby and Claudette Rogers.
When songwriter Berry Gordy first met young William, the amateur won over the pro with a notebook brimming with unpolished songs and a demeanor brimming with enthusiasm. Gordy served as his mentor, but Smokey later influenced Gordy's direction by suggesting the creation of a new record company. Dun dun dun...
As the renamed Miracles rose in fame, Smokey's own résumé grew. (The full one could fill a separate Smokey Robinson bio!)
And amidst it all, husband of Claudette. :)
All that energy had to burn out sometime. Some years after the group officially became Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, its lead felt the drag of touring. He went solo in 1972.
At Motown, Smokey Robinson had a charmed career and a reputation for dependability and healthy living. But he did face personal misfortunes as time went by, including Claudette's miscarriages, an intensifying cocaine habit, and marital troubles. Moreover, he'd already hit his artistic and commercial peak by the start of his solo career.
Still, in the 1970s and 1980s, he managed to succeed with mellower, urban contemporary albums. One of them, A Quiet Storm, even lent its name to a relaxed, soulful type of mood music. Meanwhile, hits like "Cruisin'" and "Being With You" kept him on the charts and on the airwaves.
Later, he cleaned up in the spiritual as well as the financial sense: The singer turned away from drugs and toward God as a born-again Christian.
In the early 1990s, Smokey Robinson left Motown after over 30 years. He rejoined the company before the millennium, but his association with it and the Miracles had never really ended--nor ever will. With admiration from the Beatles and Bob Dylan, recognition by the Grammys, and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he clinched his status as an icon beyond Motown oldies.
Want S'More Smokey Robinson?
Hit Play just to hear him again.
The man of a thousand (plus a thousand, plus a thousand...) songs wrote his own book? Astounding! ;)
Dig this Smokey Robinson bio? Want more biographies like it? Head home for links to all my Motown oldies artists!