Today in Black History: William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr. was born
William "Smokey" Robinson
William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr. (born February 19, 1940) is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, and former record executive. Robinson was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he also served as the group's chief songwriter and producer. Robinson led the group from its 1955 origins as the Five Chimes until 1972 when he announced a retirement from the group to focus on his role as Motown's vice president.
However, Robinson returned to the music industry as a solo artist the following year, later scoring Top 10 solo hits such as "Cruisin'" (1979), "Being With You" (1981) and "Just to See Her" (1987). Following the sale of Motown Records in 1988, Robinson left the company in 1990. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Smokey Robinson was born to an African-American father and a mother of African-American and distant French ancestry into a poor family in the North End area of Detroit. He was raised by his elder sister and her husband, after his mother died of a brain hemorrhage.
His uncle Claude gave him the nickname "Smokey Joe" when he was a child.
He attended Northern High School, where he was above average academically and a keen athlete, though his main interest was music and he formed a doo-wop group named the Five Chimes.
At one point, he and Diana Ross lived several houses from each other on Belmont; he once said he has known Ross since she was about eight.
Robinson said his interest in music started after hearing the groups Nolan Strong & the Diablos and Billy Ward and his Dominoes on the radio as a child. Robinson later listed Barrett Strong, a Detroit native, as a strong vocal influence during an interview with Goldmine as he and Strong shared similar vocals. In 1955, he formed the first lineup of the Five Chimes with childhood friend Ronald White and classmate Pete Moore. Two years later, in 1957, they were renamed the Matadors and included Bobby Rogers. Another member, Emerson Rogers, was replaced by Bobby's cousin Claudette Rogers. The group's guitarist, Marv Tarplin, joined them sometime in 1958. The Matadors began touring Detroit venues around this time. They later changed their name to the Miracles.