William “Smokey” Robinson
William “Smokey” Robinson was born in 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. His mother died when he was 10, and he was raised by his older sister in a house with eleven other children. He was musically inclined from an early age and wrote his first song at the age of six. Robinson grew up hearing Jazz, Blues, and Gospel music in his neighborhood. While still in high school, he founded a singing group with some of his friends known as the Matadors, and later the Miracles. He wrote songs for the group, and they began playing in venues around Detroit.
The Miracles began seeking a record deal. In 1957, they had an audition in New York City for a company called Brunswick Records. Brunswick turned them down, but they were overheard by a fellow Detroit resident by the name of Berry Gordy. Gordy was impressed with the group’s sound, and particularly with the songs Robinson had written. Gordy mentored Robinson in songwriting and helped the Miracles record and release their first records.
Robinson was one of the first singers to record for Motown. His early hits were with his group, the Miracles — their record “Shop Around” was the first Motown record to sell a million copies.Robinson was also an important figure behind the scenes at Motown — in fact, he helped convince Gordy to start the label.
He became vice president of the company, assisting with operations. Along with Gordy, he played an important role in defining Motown’s characteristic sound. Robinson’s skills as a songwriter and producer were in high demand at Motown. He wrote songs for himself as well as for other singers on the label; a number of these became big hits. As a producer, his duties included managing recording sessions and deciding which songwriters and musicians would be involved in a project.
But America loves a second act, and Smokey’s begins when he leaves the Miracles, gets off the road, spends more time with wife Claudette, and tends to duties as talent scout and vice president of Motown – a rank bestowed on him ten years earlier. He also writes a song dedicated to the Miracles, “Sweet Harmony,” which becomes the first hit single of his solo career, in the summer of ’73. Accompanying it is an album, Smokey, co-produced with Willie Hutch, which includes the socially conscious “Just My Soul Responding.”