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For over 50 years, the still-vital Smokey Robinson, R&B crooner, songwriter and businessman, has wowed audiences young and old. Robinson recently released a new CD, Smokey and Friends, in which he performs some of his greatest hits in collaboration with several other illustrious performers, including Elton John, Steven Tyler and John Legend. At 74 years young, his silky voice is still strong. He continues to write songs, to perform and to inspire others wherever he goes.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1940, Robinson began singing at an early age. He gives his family, especially his mother, the credit for instilling the love of music in him as a child. As a boy, he was constantly surrounded by music. Influenced by artists like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, he wrote his first song as a sixth-grader and later went on to pen thousands of songs. He has been called a poet, a prolific writer, a balladeer and by some, the architect of sound.
Robinson, born William Robinson, Jr., met Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1957 when Berry was just starting Motown. The two became fast friends with Robinson’s group, The Matadors (later the Miracles), producing several of the label’s greatest hits. Motown’s first hit, I Want Money, That’s What I Want, was followed by Robinson’s first hit, Shop Around. What followed was an outpouring of musical genius as Robinson collaborated with Gordy to make Motown one of the country’s largest independent record labels.
Motown became known as “Hitsville U.S.A.” just as a young and unproven Gordy had predicted. With Gordy and Robinson at the helm, the company became a bridge between the races as blacks and whites alike grooved to the Motown sound. Out of Motown’s 40 number one singles, Robinson had his hand in the production of 37. He is also said to have penned about 4,000 songs, some which he wrote for other artists, including Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells and the Temptations.
In the early 70’s, Robinson began a solo career and garnered even more success with songs like Cruising, Quiet Storm and Just to See Her. He continued to sing and to write songs, but he also fell into trouble with drugs. During an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Robinson recounted the story of his addiction to cocaine and marijuana. He credits God with turning his life around and uses his experience to speak out against addiction. Many people may not know it, but it was during this time that Robinson produced a gospel CD entitled Food for the Spirit.
Now, in his later years, Robinson continues to produce. He holds many honors, including an honorary doctorate degree from Howard University, and he is a member of both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. William Robinson, Jr., Motown legend, smooth soul singer, prolific songwriter and consummate performer is still going strong at 74 years old. He continues to write songs and to speak to others about his experiences, and his velvety voice continues to entertain. The release of his latest project, Smokey and Friends, a collaboration designed not to bring Smokey’s sound back but to reintroduce the old hits to fans old and new, just goes to show that Smokey Robinson is still vital.
By Constance Spruill