William Robinson Jr. was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 19, 1940. After his mother died when he was ten years old, Robinson was raised by his sister. Nicknamed “Smokey” by his uncle, Robinson was a bright student who enjoyed reading books and poetry. A reluctant saxophone student, Robinson turned his creative energy to composing songs, which he collected in a dime store writing tablet. While attending Detroit's Northern High School in 1954, Robinson formed the vocal group the Matadors, which performed at battle-of-the-band contests and at recreation centers.
Robinson's introduction to Berry Gordy in 1957 resulted in the Matadors’ first record contract with George Goldner's End label. Upon joining the newly formed Motown label in 1960, the group changed its name, upon the suggestion of Gordy, to the Miracles. Although the Miracles's debut album failed to attract notice, the group provided Motown with its first smash hit, “Shop Around” (1961), a song written and co-produced by Robinson.
In close collaboration with Gordy, Robinson spent the following decade as one of Motown's most integral singers and producers. With the Miracles he recorded such hits as “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (1963), “Tracks of My Tears” (1965), “I Second That Emotion” (1967), and “Tears of a Clown” (1970). As a writer, he provided the label with hits like “My Guy” for Mary Wells, “I'll Be Doggone” for Marvin Gaye, and “My Girl” for the Temptations.
In 1972 Robinson left the Miracles to launch a solo career. Despite the moderate success of his records during the disco craze of the 1970s, Robinson continued to perform and record. In 1979 Robinson experienced a comeback with the critically acclaimed hit “Cruisin.” Three years later, Robinson appeared on the NBC-TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Between 1986 and 1991 Robinson released five more albums, including Smoke Signals, One Heartbeat, and Love, Smokey.
Robinson signed with a British company, Music by Design, in 1995 and released Intimate in 1999 while touring and making concert appearances. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986) and received a Grammy Award for his vocal performance of the song “Just to See Her” (1987). He released a gospel record Food for the Spirit (2004) and a pop album Timeless Love (2006). Robinson has received numerous awards including an honorary doctorate from Howard University and Kennedy Center Honors in December 2006.
Proclaimed by Bob Dylan as one of America's greatest poets, Smokey Robinson is a pop music legend who has risen to fame as a brilliant songwriter, producer, and singer. His instantly recognizable falsetto voice continues to bring Robinson gold records and a legion of loyal fans.
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