The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture is to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Afro-Americans.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Legends: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Smokey Robinson (b. William Robinson, 19th February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)

Emerson Rogers (Emerson Rogers left, and was replaced by his sister Claudette, who married Smokey Robinson in 1959.)

Bobby Rogers (b. 19th February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.)

Ronnie White (b. 5th April 1939, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., d. 26th August 1995)

and Warren 'Pete' Moore (b. 19th November 1939, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.).


In mid-1950s Detroit, there lived Five little Chimes--well, maybe not so little since they were then high schoolers. Their names were James Grice, Donald Wicker, Clarence Dawson, Warren Moore, and William Robinson.

The winds of change blew away the first three youths. Ronnie White and cousins Emerson ("Sonny") and Bobby Rogers swept in to replace them. At this point, the group became the Matadors--sturdier-sounding in name if not music. When another draft (the war kind) removed Sonny from the group, his sister Claudette stepped in.

In 1957, they tried out before the manager of red-hot Jackie Wilson. No dice. Luckily, witness Berry Gordy trailed after the dejected rejectees and asked to hear more, specifically from "Smokey." The singers soon slipped under Gordy's wing and a new name: the Miracles.

Their first single, a 1958 answer record to a Silhouettes song, had an apt title: "Got a Job." That's what Primettes guitarist Marv Tarplin snagged with the group, too, after the future Supremes informally auditioned before Smokey.

Although the Miracles bumbled through their first live performance, the shy, eager teens entered the fast track when Gordy established the Tamla and Motown labels. "Shop Around" rocketed to the top of the R&B and pop charts and the Miracles began their ascent.

At Motown, the singers learned to juggle sparkling ballads like "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," "Ooo Baby Baby," and "The Tracks of My Tears" with sportier tunes like "Mickey's Monkey" and "Going to a Go-Go." With their juicy harmonies, newfound athleticism, and Smokey Robinson's lofty tenor, they proved their worth on the world stage.

Changes had kept brewing, however. A year after marrying Smokey, Claudette withdrew from touring, but still pitched in vocally on records. In 1965, the group became Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, cementing the lead's individual stardom.

Hits like "I Second That Emotion" and "The Tears of a Clown" followed. But it was only a matter of time before the group's biggest adjustment.

In 1972, Billy Griffin filled in for Smokey Robinson. With the 20-year-old falsetto, the Miracles stayed productive, sending "Do It Baby" and "Don't Cha Love It" up the charts. They got huge numbers with "Love Machine" in 1976.

That decade, with City of Angels's "Ain't Nobody Straight in L.A." and Love Crazy's FBI-denounced "Spy for Brotherhood," Miracles songs courted controversy as well as ladies. Not so naïve anymore, huh?

By then (1977), these Motown singers had become Columbia artists. Soon after, Griffin and Moore split for solo singing and producing, respectively. New Miracles arose in the late 1980s with Bobby Rogers.

Sadly, classic Miracles baritone Ronnie White died of leukemia in 1995. But you can still find the group performing in some form. Billy Griffin (or Smokey Robinson) and the Miracles CDs help recapture the glory days, as well.

Despite their awkward beginnings, the real "miracles" were not the singers' successes, which they deserved. Their lovingly performed Motown oldies showed that popular music, so fraught with frivolity, could also be pure magic.


  • Hi, We're The Miracles (Tamla 1961)
  • Cookin' With The Miracles (Tamla 1962)
  • I'll Try Something New (Tamla 1962)
  • The Fabulous Miracles (Tamla 1963)
  • Recorded Live: On Stage (Tamla 1963)
  • Christmas With The Miracles (Tamla 1963)
  • The Miracles Doin-Mickey's Monkey'(Tamla 1963)
  • Going To A Go-Go (Tamla 1965)
  • I Like It Like That (Tamla 1965)
  • Away We A Go-Go (Tamla 1966)
  • Make It Happen (Tamla 1967)
  • Special Occasion (Tamla 1968)
  • Live! (Tamla 1969)
  • Time Out For Smokey Robinson And The Miracles (Tamla 1969)
  • Four In Blue (Tamla 1969)
  • What Love Has Joined Together (Tamla 1970)
  • A Pocket Full Of Miracles (Tamla 1970)
  • The Season For Miracles (Tamla 1970)
  • One Dozen Roses (Tamla 1971)
  • Flying High Together (Tamla 1972)
  • Renaissance (Tamla 1973)
  • Do It Baby (Tamla 1974)
  • Don't Cha Love It (Tamla 1975)
  • City Of Angels (Tamla 1975)
  • The Power Of Music (Tamla 1976)
  • Love Crazy (Columbia 1977)
  • The Miracles (Columbia 1978)


Smokey Robinson

b. Williarm Robinson, 19th February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.


Smokey Robinson was the founding member of the Miracles at Northern High School, Detroit. In 1955, Robinson became one of the major figures in the local music scene by the end of the Fifties. That year he met Berry Gordy, who was writing songs for R & B star Jackie Wilson, and looking for local acts to produce. Berry Gordy took the teenager under his wing. He produced a series of Miracles singles in 1958 and 1959, all of which featured Robinson as composer and lead singer, and leased them to prominent R & B labels.

In 1960, he signed the Miracles to his Motown Records stable, and began to promote Robinson as a substantial colleague. In Motown's early days, Smokey was involved in every part of the company's operations, writing, producing and making his own records, helping in the business of promotion and auditioning many of the young hopefuls who were attracted by Berry Gordy's growing reputation as an businessman.

Smokey had begun his career as a producer by overseeing the recording of the Miracles' 'Way Over There', and soon afterwards he was involved with developing the talents of Mary Wells and The Supremes. Mary Wells soon became Robinson's most successful protogee. Smokey wrote and produced a series of hit singles for her between 1962 and 1964.

These records, such as 'You Beat Me To The Punch', 'Two Lovers' and 'My Guy', demonstrated his growing confidence as a songwriter. Although Smokey was unable to turn the Supremes into a hit-making act, he experienced no such failure in his relationship with Motown's leading male group of the mid-60's, The Temptations.

Between 1964 and 1965, Smokey was responsible for the records that established their reputation. 'The Way You Do The Things You Do' set the hit sequence in motion, followed by the ballad 'My Girl' (later equally popular in the hands of Otis Redding), the dance number 'Get Ready', 'Since I Lost My Baby' and 'It's Growing'.

During the same period, Robinson helped to create two of Marvin Gaye's most memorable early hits, Ain't That Peculiar' and 'I'll Be Doggone'. Throughout the 60's, Smokey combined this production and A & R work with his own career as leader of The Miracles.

He married fellow group member Claudette Rogers in 1959, and she provided the inspiration for Miracles hits such as 'You've Really Got A Hold On Me' and 'Ooh Baby Baby'. During the mid-60's, Robinson worked with fellow Miracle Ronnie White, and Motown guitarist Marv Tarplin.

As the decade progressed, Bob Dylan referred to Robinson apparently without irony, as 'America's greatest living poet'. Smokey's lyric-writing scaled new heights on ballads such as 'The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage' and 'I Second That Emotion'. From 1967 onwards, Robinson was given individual credit on the Miracles' releases.

For the next two years, their commercial fortunes went into a slide, which was corrected when their 1965 recording of 'The Tracks Of My Tears' became a major hit in Britain in 1969, and the four-year old 'The Tears Of A Clown' achieved similar success on both sides of the Atlantic in 1970.

At the end of the decade, Smokey resumed his career as a producer and writer for other acts, collaborating with The Marvelettes on 'The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game', and The Four Tops on 'Still Water'. Business concerns were occupying an increasing proportion of his time, however, and in 1971 he announced that he would be leaving the Miracles the following year, to concentrate on his role as Vice-President of the Motown corporation.

A year after the split, Smokey launched his solo career, enjoying a hit single with 'Sweet Harmony', an affectionate tribute to his former group, and issuing the excellent 'Smokey'. The album included the song 'Just My Soul Responding', a piece of social comment about the USA's treatment of blacks and American Indians.

Smokey maintained a regular release schedule through the mid-70's, with one new album arriving every year. He continued to break new songwriting ground and describing a new genre to a new style of soft soul on 1975's 'A Quiet Storm'. Singles such as 'Baby That's Backatcha' and 'The Agony And The Ecstasy' sold well on the black market. His first film soundtrack project, 'Big Time', in 1977, was played extensively on the U.K., Soul Shows.

Smokey returned in 1979 with 'Cruisin', his biggest chart success since 'The Tears Of A Clown' nine years earlier. Two years later, he gained his first UK number 1 with 'Being With You', a love song that came close to equalling that achievement in the U.S.A.

'Tell Me Tomorrow' enjoyed more Stateside success in 1982, and Robinson settled into another relaxed release schedule that saw him through the 80's on a series of regular small hits and consistent album sales.

Smokey was contributing significantly less new material, however, and his 1988 autobiography, 'Smokey', revealed that he had been battling against cocaine addiction for much of the decade. Although his marriage to Claudette failed, he returned to full health and creativity, and enjoyed two big hits in 1987, 'Just To See Her' and 'One Heartbeat'.

He returned to recording in 1999 releasing 'Intimacy'.

This album contains, probably, one of his finest moments with 'Easy To Love'.

Voted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988, Smokey Robinson is now one of the senior figures in popular music, a writer and producer still best remembered for his outstanding work in the 60's, but who has seldom betrayed the responsibility of that legacy since then.


  • Smokey (Tamla 1973)
  • Pure Smokey (Tamla 1974)
  • A Quiet Storm (Tamla 1975)
  • Smokey's Family Robinson (Tamla 1976)
  • Deep In My Soul (Tamla 1977)
  • Big Time (Tamla 1977)
  • Love Breeze (Tamla 1978)
  • Smokin' (Tamla 1978)
  • Where There's Smoke (Tamla 1979)
  • Warm Thoughts (Tamla 1980)
  • Being With You (Tamla 1981)
  • Yes It's You Lady (Tamla 1982)
  • Touch The Sky (Tamla 1983)
  • Blame It On Love (Tamla 1983)
  • Essar (Tamla 1984)
  • Smoke Signals (Tamla 1985)
  • One Heartbeat (Motown 1987)
  • Love, Smokey (Motown 1990)
  • Double Good Everything (SBK 1991)
  • Intimate (Motown 1999)
  • Food for the Spirit (CNR Records 2004)
  • Timeless Love (New Doors 2006)

References & Biographies



BlindWilliam said...

S-Science: The Smokey is a masterpiece, straight up. You are the master of the vaults. Your vinyl must weigh a ton, ma brovah.



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