Smokey Robinson, born William Robinson Jr. on February 19, 1940, is an acclaimed American singer, songwriter, and producer. He grew up in the North End area of Detroit, Michigan, in a family with diverse roots.
Let’s talk about Smokey Robinson parents. His father was African-American, while his mother was of African-American and French descent. Their rich background contributed to his unique appeal as a rising star in the world of music.
Robinson’s mother, Flossie Robinson, was the daughter of The Rev. Benjamin J. Smith and Ella Mae Rivers Warr. The Rev. Benjamin’s family originated from Rutherford, Tennessee, while Ella was born in Tennessee as well. On his father’s side, Smokey’s ancestry includes Nigerian, Portuguese, Scandinavian, and Cherokee components, adding to the complex tapestry of his heritage.
Growing up in a neighborhood that was home to other future music legends, such as Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson’s roots played a significant role in his development as an artist. His rich cultural background and upbringing in the Detroit music scene set the stage for his impressive career as both a performer and songwriter.
Early Life and Parents
Birth and Childhood
William “Smokey” Robinson Jr., an iconic singer, songwriter, and record producer, was born on February 19, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in the North End area of Detroit, where he was raised by his African-American father William Robinson and mother, Flossie. Flossie was of African-American and French descent, which contributed to Smokey’s diverse ancestry that includes Nigerian, Scandinavian, Portuguese, and Cherokee heritage. The nickname “Smokey Joe” was given to him by his uncle Claude during his childhood.
Smokey Robinson parents and diverse family background can be attributed to his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, Benjamin Smith, and grandmother, contributed to Smokey’s Nigerian, Scandinavian, Portuguese, and Cherokee ancestry. This combination of cultural influences was significant in shaping Robinson’s upbringing and musical inspirations.
It is known that his maternal grandparents spent time living in Alabama before eventually moving to Detroit, where Smokey was born and raised. However, the details of their lives and the exact origins of his family history remain largely undiscovered. Despite the lack of concrete knowledge about his ancestors, Smokey Robinson has managed to make a lasting impact on the music industry, drawing inspiration from the various cultures and influences he was exposed to throughout his life.
Smokey Robinson began his musical career as the founder and frontman of the Motown vocal group, The Miracles. The group originally formed in 1955 as The Matadors, consisting of members Smokey Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, and Marv Tarplin. In 1957, Claudette Rogers joined the group, and they eventually changed their name to The Miracles. The group signed with Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records and experienced success with hit songs such as “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Mickey’s Monkey,” “Baby Baby Don’t Cry,” “The Tears of a Clown,” and “Ooo Baby Baby.” The Miracles were known for their blend of R&B, soul, and doo-wop styles.
In 1972, Smokey Robinson decided to pursue a solo career, releasing his debut album “Smokey” in 1973. Some of his most notable solo hits include “Cruisin’,” “Being with You,” and “Baby Come Close.” Throughout his solo career, Robinson released numerous albums that showcased his talents as a singer, songwriter, and producer. His discography includes works such as “Pure Smokey,” “Love Breeze,” “Timeless Love,” “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun,” “Christmas Everyday,” and “Now and Then.”
Motown Vice Presidency
Aside from being a performer, Smokey Robinson also played a significant role in the Motown record label’s success. He served as a record producer and songwriter for various Motown artists, such as Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes. Additionally, Robinson co-wrote and produced hit songs like “My Guy,” “My Girl,” “You Beat Me to the Punch,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” and “Get Ready.” In recognition of his contributions to the label, Berry Gordy appointed Smokey Robinson as Motown’s Vice President, a position he held for many years.
Smokey Robinson’s musical career has spanned over six decades, earning him accolades, such as induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. His talents as a singer, songwriter, and record producer have influenced countless artists and solidified his place as a legend in popular music history.
Awards and Honors
Smokey Robinson, an influential figure in the music industry, has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honors throughout his storied career. One of his most notable achievements is his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. This recognition solidified Robinson’s status as a major contributor to the evolution of popular music.
In addition to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Smokey Robinson has also been recognized by the GRAMMY Awards. Although the specifics of his GRAMMY achievements are not provided, it is evident that Robinson’s musical contributions have been greatly appreciated and celebrated within the industry.
Another significant honor bestowed upon Robinson was his selection as a Kennedy Center Honoree. This distinction is awarded to those who have made substantial contributions to the world of arts and entertainment. As a talented songwriter, singer, and performer, it is no surprise that Robinson was chosen for this prestigious recognition.
In 2016, Smokey Robinson was awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to popular music. This esteemed honor further exemplified Robinson’s impact on the music world, as well as his commitment to creating works that resonate with audiences across generations.
Smokey Robinson’s accomplishments have also been immortalized through his inclusion on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As a testament to his extraordinary career, Robinson is a double inductee on the Walk of Fame – first as a solo artist in 1983, and later as a member of The Miracles in 2009.
Throughout the years, Smokey Robinson has continuously demonstrated his exceptional talent and dedication to his craft, earning numerous awards and honors along the way. These accolades not only serve as a reminder of Robinson’s influence on the music industry but also of his enduring legacy as an artist.
Marriage and Children
William Robinson Jr., also known as Smokey Robinson, married Claudette Rogers in 1959. The couple had two children together, Berry William and Tamla Claudette Robinson. Berry was named after his godfather, Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown records, which played a significant role in Smokey’s career. Meanwhile, Tamla was named after the original Motown label, Tamla Records. Smokey had another child named Trey Robinson from a previous relationship.
As for Smokey Robinson’s marriage with Claudette Rogers, the couple faced some challenges. They eventually went through a divorce in 1986, ending their marriage of 27 years. Smokey then remarried Frances Glandney in 2004, and they are still together.