Singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson's first brush with fame came at the beginning to the 1960s when his group The Miracles signed on to legendary Motown label and released the chart-topping Shop Around single. A series of Robinson-penned hits soon followed, including You've Really Got a Hold on Me, I Second That Emotion or the beautiful Tears of a Clown. In 1975, Robinson found success as a solo singer with the album A Quiet Storm. A 1988 inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1999, the R&B artist made his first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 2010.
Miracles in Motown
William Smokey Robinson was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 19, 1940. At 14, he founded vocal group The Matadors with schoolmates Ron White, Warren "Pete" Moore, Bobby Rogers and Emerson Rogers-who was soon replaced by his sister, Claudette, who would become Mrs Robinson in 1964.
After changing their name to The Miracles, the formation released their first single, Got a Job, in 1958. Success came two years later with Shop Around, which climbed to the top spot of the R&B charts. It became Motown Records' first million-seller.
Although he excelled at writing fast and catchy party songs like Mickey's Monkey, Going to a Go-Go or I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying, Robinson's forte was romantic ballads. Covered by The Beatles a year after its release, the 1962 hit You've Really Got a Hold on Me was followed by The Tracks of My Tears, Ooo Ooo Baby (both issued in 1965) and I Second That Emotion (1967). During the sixties, Robinson and The Miracles would see 25 of their songs enter the top 40. Only one would reach number 1 on the pop charts: recorded three years earlier, Tears of a Clown became a smash hit upon its release as a single in 1970.
A prolific songwriter, Robinson gave some of his best compositions to other Motown recording artists. Mary Wells' My Guy, The Temptations' My Girl, The Marvelettes' The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game and Marvin Gaye's Ain't That Peculiar all bore his signature.
Smokey's considerable talents were rapidly acknowledged by Motown's founder, Berry Gordy Jr, who made him vive-president of the label in 1961. Praise also came from his peers, with Bob Dylan declaring Robinson the "America's greatest living poet".
Smokey Goes Solo
In 1972, Robinson left The Miracles to launch a solo career. Released the following year, Smokey proved a transitional effort which would set the table for what was to come. With Pure Smokey (1974), the balladeer positioned himself as bedroom music purveyor. This new Smokey, suave and sexy, fully bloomed on A Quiet Storm (1975), an LP considered by many to be his best of the decade. Where There's Smoke... arrived four years later. It contained Cruisin', the artist's most popular single since The Tears of a Clown.
Although he still visited the recording studio at regular intervals, Smokey Robinson saw his commercial fortunes declining during the 1980s. He still managed to propel the odd single-like 1987's Just to See Her-high up the charts. The decade ended with the R&B singer making his entrance in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1988.
After keeping a low profile for most of the 1990s, Robinson returned at the beginning of the new millennium. With Food for the Spirit (2004), the singer offered his take on contemporary gospel music. Timeless Love (2006) had him revisiting (mostly pre-rock) standards. For Time Flies When You're Having Fun (2009), he penned a dozen numbers which were recorded live in the studio. In 2010, the legendary singer paid his first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, where he was made the fifth recipient of Spirit Award.