Very few men have influenced popular music, not only in the United States of America but all over the world as Smokey Robinson has done over the years. Born as William Robinson Jr, on February 19, 1940, into a poor African-American home, he knew from a young age that he wanted to become a musician, and with influences such as Nolan Strong & The Diablos and Barrett Strong, he has grown to become a voice and talent to reckon with over the years.
“Smokey” Robinson is an accomplished songwriter, singer, producer and a former record label executive. He is a bundle of talent who continues to take the whole world by storm several decades after he launched his career.
Origin Of The Moniker – Smokey
There are quite a few versions of how Smokey Robinson got his moniker – Smokey. Though they all differ in their finer details, they also share a lot of similarities.
A version has it that one of his uncles named Claude gave him the name, which is a derisive term that refers to light-skinned black Americans, while cleverly pretending to have given him the nickname of a cowboy – a set of people who Williams (as Smokey was named at birth) loves so much. Another school of thought has it that he was probably given the moniker because he was a chain smoker.
William Robinson (his birth name), however, clarified how he came about the name Smokey sometime in 2012. He explained that his father’s friend and godfather, who he fondly called uncle Claude, used to take him to the movies to watch cowboy movies when he was very young. Due to his undying love for cowboy movies, his uncle gave him the nickname – Smokey Joe, which was meant to be his cowboy name. As he got older, he decided to drop the “Joe” part of his moniker, and anytime anyone asked for his name, he would simply tell them that he wishes to be known as Smokey Robinson.
Smokey Robinson’s Achievements As A Musician
Smokey Robinson has had a very robust career as a singer, songwriter and music producer. His many achievements have earned him several prestigious awards and recognition.
Group Career (The Miracles)
He started his musical career in 1955 with his friends in a group called Five Chimes which was later renamed the Matadors and then the Miracles. The group charted over fifty hit songs with 25 studio albums and their music influenced several artists all over the world.
In 1973, Smokey began his solo career. So far, he has released 23 studio albums and 58 singles that have topped the charts all over the world.
He earned his first Grammy Award in 1988 and has since won several other prestigious awards. In 1995, he went ahead to win the Heritage Award at the Soul Train Music Awards.
In 2011, he was awarded the Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement award. He got a Black Entertainment Television (BET) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.
He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and also got an individual star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, both in 1987. Two years later, he was also inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Some of his other notable achievements include a medal at the National Medal of Arts in 1993. Smokey was voted into the Michigan Rock & Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2006, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the prestigious Howard University. At the tail end of 2006, he was one of the five Kennedy Center honorees, alongside notable names such as Steven Spielberg, Andrew Webber, Dolly Parton and Zubin Mehta.
The group, The Miracles, of which Smokey was a founding member, got their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009; the same year he received an honorary Doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music, and he also gave the commencement speech at the ceremony. Even in recent times, Smokey’s contribution to popular music continues to be recognized, he received the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for the popular song in 2016 and was also inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in Michigan.
Family Life Of The Music Star
Smokey Robinson is a happily married man with children. He got married to his current wife, Frances Robinson (nee Gladney) in 2002. They settled down in Pittsburgh, building a home there, which they currently use as a winery.
Smokey got married to his first wife, Claudette Rogers in 1959, she was also a member of The Miracles. They had two children together – a son, Berry and daughter, Tamla. Smokey and Claudette were separated in 1974, and though they got back together after that episode, they eventually got a divorce officially in 1986.