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|Smokey Robinson: A Portrait|
|Written by Judalon Harris|
|Sunday, 01 April 2012 18:18|
Intro: The chanter was born William Robinson Jr. February 19, 1940, in Detroit, MI. At the age of six, Smokey Robinson wrote a song, sang it and gave probably one of his first live performances during a school play. After such a performance Smokey’s mother must have known he has a gifted voice. She would call family members and have Robinson sing to them on the phone.
Growing up in the hood, (Detroit’s North End) must have been very challenging. He played sports as most do to avoid trouble. At the time, he thought being the stupendous international recording artist/entertainer and multi-talented person he is was an impossible dream. Never mind barriers outside, he was 10 when his mom passed away. Reportedly, the day she passed she called for his son and, “’told him to be good.’” He has been more than good! He has been stellar and still is. With The Miracles he graced the Top 40, at least 25 times in a decade. For decades he’s living his impossible dream.
Anytime smoke gets in your eyes/clothes etc., it is difficult to get out or it always impacts you. Smokey soul, gospel, neo-soul, pop, jazzy and Doo-wop singing icon Robinson is no different. He has been in our hearts and souls for decades. We love his impactful contributions to music and our lives. Thankfully now he is and has been all over the place. His tour dates are easily found on the web; he’s on TV, in movies, on the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace…), in articles etc.
Smokey Robinson has a fifty plus years on the music scene as a vocalist, songwriter, pianist, recording executive and producer, a walking musical, a living Motown archive. In addition, he is a public speaker and business man. Last summer, he performed at Hoosier Park in Anderson. He sang an array of his original classics (such as songs from the Quiet Storm album considered as one of the most highly acclaimed soul records of the 70s), some award winning hits of the 1980s as well as some of his 2009 CD, Time Flies When You’re Having Fun. Smokey Robinson’s voice is still extra smooth, velvety, soulful, seductive, extraordinary, unique, classical and everlasting.
Robinson hasn’t built his career singing sexually explicit songs and he doesn’t have to. His voice and lyrics are of blatant emotion, ‘shake it off hurt’ & heartache, Christianity, activism/socially conscious and otherwise encompassing. His music is about understanding, sharing, loving and so on. Classic, undefiled, awesome songs will be appreciated by the next generations.
A “Quiet Storm” Career
Robinson’s recording career began in 1955. As a teen in high school and before Motown he cofounded the music group, The Five Chimes. They were renamed The Matadors, then The Miracles by 1957, due to the addition of Smokey’s then future wife Claudette Rogers. At the time, the group entertained locally. He also signed and recorded with Chess and End Records, (End Records later became Rhino Records now Warner Music Group) prior to Motown. He penned over 4000 songs including 70 Top 40 hits.
At the age of 18, he met Berry Gordy and influenced him to start Motown. Reportedly, Gordy received an $800 loan from family and began Tamla Records-housed within Motown Records. Robinson was a catalyst to Motown’s beginning thru 1988. Hence, Gordy made him vice-president. Berry Gordy said without The Miracles there would be no Motown. Both Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder have said without The Miracles they could not have achieved their star studded status.
In 1960, he took only 25 minutes to write Shop Around. It became Motown’s and The Miracles first hit song as well as their first million seller. During the next 12 years he penned nearly 30 classic songs. He wrote classics not just for The Miracles but crafted chart toppers such as My Guy, You Beat Me to the Punch (for Mary Wells), My Girl, The Way You Do The Things You Do for The Temptations, Don’t Mess With Bill for The Marvellettes, Ain’t That Peculiar & I’ll Be Doggone for Marvin Gaye, Still Water Love for The Four Tops. He also wrote hits for Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrill, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Jackson Five and more.
With numerous award winners and other blatant successes created by Smokey’s blazing lyrical finger tips, in 1965, The Miracles became Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. He opted to leave The Miracles in 1969, but their hit songs Baby, Baby Don’t Cry and Tears of a Clown were chart toppers. Thus, he toured with the group prolonging his departure until 1972. Stevie Wonder provided tracks/beats, (music) to Tears of a Clown and delivered it to Smokey. The latter, in a couple of days wrote the lyrics based on Pagliacci, a famous Italian clown. Pagliacci’s story began as a short opera that debuted in 1892. It is about a jilted husband and this opera is still performed today. Smokey says Pagliacci was the highlight of the circus but would cry in his dressing room because he didn’t have a romantic love. Tears of a Clown had been released in the U.S. without notice in 1967 on the album Make It Happen. Later, it was rereleased and renamed Tears of A Clown after its success in England where it became number one likewise in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (aka the UK). It was their first number one in Europe and the biggest selling song for Smokey and The Miracles.
The CD was his third solo album; destined from conception to be classic & historic. It contains The Wedding Song, written for Jermaine Jackson and his then bride to be, Hazel Gordy, Berry Gordy’s daughter as well as the track, Happy from the movie Lady Sings The Blues. Containing three hits, the title track, The Agony and the Ecstasy and Baby That’s Backatcha established his solo career in mainstream America.
He has 23 studio albums such as Pure Smokey, Timeless Love, Intimate, Double Good Everything and Where There’s Smoke to name a few. Being with You and One Heartbeat are album titles and single releases. Incorporated into the success of the single, Being With You is the B side Spanish version.
Smokey reportedly attended college for electrical engineering for a short time prior to signing with Motown. In 2006, Howard University awarded him a doctor of music honoris causa. In 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music from Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
In retrospect, she recounts the experience by saying the Holy Spirit was strong within Smokey Robinson. While he was there, she prayed for him twice. Robinson describes Ablaze Ministries as a small church with people of every color rejoicing and fellowshipping thru song. Reciprocating, Smokey asked for forgiveness and asked Christ through the Holy Spirit to come into his life. He was immediately healed from the addiction by accepting Christ’s Holy Spirit. That acceptance added a new Spiritual element to his life. He remembers leaving the small church, “’…feeling higher than at any moment of my life. Higher than I had ever been on coke. So good and so high that I felt I was walking on air. Since that night I haven't touched or wanted any form of any drug. Just like that, the desire left me. Miraculously I was saved. The Lord washed me clean.’"
After his recovery he was compelled to write a gospel CD, Food For The Spirit released in April 2004. Food For The Spirit moves the listeners in thought, rhythm and messages. Some songs give solemn orders that you are instantly willing to obey. The album is soothing, very mellow, informing and inspirational. Its delivery is sharp and clear so you understand the messages and affirms his gifts of music thru God. Listening to Food For The Spirit can be equated to a “chill moment” /experience or a “coo’ out” session with God/the Trinity. Tracks include, He Can Fix Anything, I Praise & Worship You Father in which Smokey expresses to God/the Trinity how he feels about Him. Let Your Light Shine On Me, We Are The Warriors, Jesus Told Me To Love You, On The Road To Damascus, Standing on Jesus, & I Have Prayed On It are other great singles. If Robinson continues to make other Gospel CDs he will excel in this genre as successfully as he has in the soul realm. He prefers Food For The Spirit to be recognized as an inspirational CD rather than gospel. However, it is both in my opinion.
Family & Friends
Robinson declared that his Uncle Claude nicknamed him “Smokey” telling him not to, “’forget where he came from’” as well as underscoring his love of cowboys.
Smokey Robinson left The Miracles to concentrate on his family (which he also started at age 19) and embraced a solo career. Meeting in their early teens, his first wife Claudette Rogers replaced her brother as a Miracle when he was drafted into the Vietnam war. They have two children Tamla and Berry. Smokey has a second son, Trey.
After 27 years of marriage to Mrs. Rogers, the couple divorced. He has since married longtime friend, interior designer Frances Glandney, (May 2002).
Recognition: Smokey Robinson has accumulated more than 4,000 songs to his credit during the course of his 50-year career in the music industry. As one of the most successful record producers and songwriters in history, Smokey Robinson is admired and highly respected among his peers and his fans around the world. British New Wave band ABC paid him homage in 1987 with the song When Smokey Sings. George Harrison of The Beatles wrote a tune called Pure Smokey which peaked #5 on the charts and remade The Miracles' hit, Ohh Baby, Baby. Another member of The Beatles, John Lennon have complimented Robinson’s talents often. The song Genius of Love/Tom Tom Club by Talking Heads in 1981, mentions Smokey Robinson. In 1982, The Rolling Stones performed the Robinson and the Miracles’ hit “Going To A Go-Go.”
He is the only person in music history to simultaneously be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. He’s among The One Hundred Greatest Singers of All Times. People nicknamed him The King of Motown and The Master of Motown. He was honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences which described him as a "living legend".
Mr. Robinson became the 2011 and the 20th annual recipient of the ELLA Awards given by the Society of Singers. Ella Fitzgerald was the first and namesake recipient of the award-making it a very highly cherished award for Robinson. This honor is bestowed for musical contributions, community assistance & humanitarianism. Mr. Robinson received other awards such as The Kennedy Center Honors Awards (2006) along with Steven Spielberg and others, The National Medal of Arts (2002), The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1999), The Soul Train Music Award (1991). In 1987, Robinson was inducted into the Cleveland, Ohio Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (controversially without the other original members of the Miracles) and in 2005 into The Rock & Roll Legends Hall of Fame/Michigan. On March 20, 2009, The Miracles were finally honored as a group with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Smokey Robinson was present with original Miracles members Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, (Bobby's cousin) Claudette Rogers, and Gloria White, accepting for her husband, the late Ronnie White, whose daughter Pamela and granddaughter Maya were there representing him as well. In addition, The Miracles as a group were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
Noteworthily, Robinson’s single "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirageca" was included in the movie American Gigolo (1980) during the scene when Richard Gere is choosing the best suit to wear.
The character C.C. White, a budding songwriter who finds fame as an R&B label's main creative force in the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, is based upon Smokey Robinson. In the 2006 movie adaptation of Dreamgirls, C.C. is portrayed by Keith Robinson. This was another way to pay homage to Robinson.
Television & Film Appearances
As for television appearances he has been on many shows such as the Ed Sullivan Show in the 60s, his own decades old ABC Television Special The Smokey Robinson Show, the Soul Train dance show in the 70s and so on. He was on American Idol as a guest judge during the Billy Joel week in 2003, and in 2009 with Joss Stone singing the beautiful and sexy, “You’re the One for Me” (it was the premiere of this track). “You’re the one for me” is part of the CD Time Flies When You’re Having Fun which pays homage to early Motown and Michael Jackson with the hidden bonus single “I Want You Back”.
On American Idol, he was also a mentor and a coach to the top 10 contestants of Season 8, who performed classic Motown songs. He played in television soaps: Days of Our Lives and The Young and The Restless. He made appearances in sitcoms such as One on One. His music has been featured on over 130 television shows, in numerous movies including classic The Big Chill and in commercials. He penned at least one soundtrack for the 1977, Black movie, Big Time.
In November 2007, Smokey Robinson toured Australia and performed with Australian band Human Nature on the set of local television programme Dancing With The Stars. On November 22, 2007, the singer was interviewed by Bob Rogers on Sydney radio station 2CH.
His most significant role to date in a film is his portrayal of Nathaniel ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton’s father in the 2011, movie Sweetwater. Sweetwater was the first Black NBA player & pioneer in its initial integrative years 1950-51.
Last summer, Robinson recorded at, “Darryl’s House” an innovative webshow created by Darryl Hall of music’s great duo Hall & Oates.
Smokey Robinson became Vice-President of Motown Records from 1961 until 1988. He resigned when Motown was sold to MCA in 1988.
In 2004, Smokey Robinson and his friend Leon Kennedy had a grocery store called SFGL Foods in Glendale, CA thru which he sold his own brand of frozen food meals. Profits from the store were used to help teach children life skills such as basic budgeting & financing. Too many missed the opportunity to experience his meals.
Smokey Robinson is creating a line of clothing for men and women combined with accessories and fragrances with the help of long time tailor to R& B/sosoul singers, James Andrew for the Spring 2012, collection. The collection features a very handsome ice white suit among other attires.
On Life & Making Music
Robinson said “…Above all, I’m a songwriter. It’s my gift from God. I recognize the fact that I’m blessed. I get a chance to live my dream. I’m not going to take people or my life or any of this for granted. I’m going to be thankful.”
He added that as long as there are “’women and love’” he will continue to write. “’Thank God for women!’” he said.
Official Website: http://www.smokeyrobinson.com/
Tamla Motown Releases
1975 A Quiet Storm
1978 Love Breeze
1980 Warm Thoughs
1986 Smoke Signals
1987 One Heartbeat
1990 Love, Smokey
2005 My World (The Definitive Collection)
Other Label Releases
1991 Double Good Everything
2006 Timeless Love
2009 Time Flies When You're Having Fun
Other Label Releases
Songwriter’s Hall of Fame-Smokey Robinson Song Catalog: http://songwritershalloffame.org/index.php/songs/C176/
Autobiography Smokey: Inside My Life published in 1989
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles: The Definitive Performances, a video retrospective of the group's music and career made in 2006 by Universal Music.