Smokey Robinson's Life in Photos

With his unmistakable voice and songwriting prowess (he's credited with thousands of songs and numerous Top 40 hits), Smokey Robinson monumentally impacted Motown Records and the music industry as a whole. To celebrate his 83rd birthday on Feb. 19, here's a look back at his illustrious career – from his start with The Miracles to his collaborations with Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and more

01 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Early Life

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William "Smokey" Robinson Jr. was born on Feb. 19, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan – living a few doors down from Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. He was athletic throughout high school, but his love of music piqued his interest the most.

He formed a doo-wop group called the Five Chimes with Ronald White and Warren "Pete" Moore in 1955, eventually renaming it The Matadors in 1957. It included members Emerson "Sonny" Rogers and Bobby Rogers, and later added Claudette Rogers and Marv Tarplin.

They toured Detroit for some time before the group's name changed to The Miracles.

02 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Start at Motown

Smokey Robinson Life in Pics
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Robinson's talent and ambition caught the eye of legendary songwriter Berry Gordy in 1957. Gordy helped The Miracles release their first single, "Got a Job," which was influenced by The Silhouettes' hit single "Get a Job."

Gordy formed Motown Records, initially called Tamla Records, and The Miracles were considered the label's first group to make it big. As their career began to take off, Motown began to flourish.

Some of their hits include "Ooo Baby Baby," "Going to a Go-Go" and the iconic song "The Tracks of My Tears." (See Robinson reflect on the latter in a video called Smokey Wrote That.)

03 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Marriage to Claudette Rogers

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Robinson married The Miracles band member Claudette Rogers on Nov. 7, 1957. She was considered the "First Lady of Motown." They had two children together, son Berry Robinson (named after Gordy) in 1968 and daughter Tamla Robinson (named after Gordy's label) in 1969.

The couple filed for legal separation after Robinson admitted to having a child with a different woman (a son named Trey, born in 1984). After 27 years of marriage, the couple divorced in 1986.

04 of 17

Smokey Robinson's First Motown Hit

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In 1960, Robinson and The Miracles released their single, "Shop Around," which became Motown's first million-selling hit record. The song was a reflection of the Motown sound and its success resulted in a solid financial foundation for the company.

05 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Iconic Collaborations

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While The Miracles were signed to Motown, Robinson also served as a primary songwriter for the label between 1962 and 1966, penning hits for a number of artists-turned-legends throughout the 1960s. The songs included Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," Mary Wells' "My Guy," The Temptations' "My Girl" and The Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together."

Gaye's aforementioned single, written and produced by Robinson and members of The Miracles, topped charts and became one of his most successful songs of the decade.

06 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Multi-Million Selling Single

Smokey Robinson Life in Pics
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With the help of musical mastermind Stevie Wonder, The Miracles released their critically acclaimed, award-winning single "The Tears of a Clown" in 1967 on the album Make It Happen. Not only did it reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles charts in the U.S. and become an international multi-million seller, but it also was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002.

07 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Solo Career

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Robinson departed from The Miracles in 1972 to focus on his new title as Motown's vice president, but returned to the music scene as a solo artist the following year.

He released his debut solo album, Smokey, in 1973, followed by Pure Smokey and A Quiet Storm, which included singles such as "Baby That's Backatcha," "The Agony and the Ecstasy" and "Quiet Storm."

His singing career took a backseat to his new duties as Motown's new VP, and he struggled to launch it successfully. After Motown Records was sold to MCA in 1988, Robinson left the company two years later.

08 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

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Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 as a solo artist. Franklin, Gaye, Bo Diddley and B.B. King were among the other performers who were inducted that year.

It wasn't until 2012 that The Miracles received the long-awaited honor, as they were inducted by Robinson himself. "I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime," Rogers told Billboard.

"It's finally happening, and we appreciate it," added band member Moore of the "bittersweet" honor. "Like the old saying goes, better late than never."

Robinson was also inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1990.

09 of 17

Smokey Robinson's First Grammy Award Win

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Robinson earned his first Grammy nomination in 1979 for his Top 5 solo hit "Cruisin'," which won him a nod for best male R&B vocal performance at the 22nd Grammy Awards.

It wasn't until 1988 that he won his first Grammy, for "Just to See Her," in the same category as his previous nod.

Robinson was also honored by the Recording Academy with a Grammy Legend Award in 1990, and was the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.

10 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Marriage to Frances Glandney

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Robinson eventually remarried, to designer Frances Glandney in May 2002. She also became stepmother to Robinson's three children.

11 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Kennedy Center Honor

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In 2006, he was recognized for his contributions to the arts by the Kennedy Center, alongside other artistic legends including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Dolly Parton, Steven Spielberg and Zubin Mehta (pictured with President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush).

12 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Motown Reunion on Broadway

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Robinson was reunited with Gordy, Wonder, and Ross at the opening night of Broadway's Motown: The Musical on April 14, 2013, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in N.Y.C.

The show is based on Gordy's 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, and tells the story of his creation of his legendary record label in addition to his personal and professional relationships with artists such as Ross, Robinson, Wonder, Gaye and Michael Jackson.

13 of 17

Smokey Robinson's BET Lifetime Achievement Award

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Robinson received BET's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 for his contribution to the Motown sound and its trailblazing history.

The ceremony featured a mashup of Robinson's hits sung by a handful of artists — beginning with Tori Kelly singing The Jackson 5's version of Robinson's "Who's Loving You," followed by Robin Thicke singing "Ooo Baby Baby," and concluding with Ne-Yo's take on "Tears of a Clown."

Robinson even sang himself!

14 of 17

Smokey Robinson's MusiCares Honor

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Robinson was honored with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award at the 12th Annual MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit in 2016 in recognition of his commitment to helping others with the addiction recovery process.

The Fund provides members of the music community access to addiction recovery treatment and support, regardless of their financial situation.

15 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Gershwin Prize Honor

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The Library of Congress awarded Robinson with the Gershwin Prize honor in 2016 for "promoting the genre of a song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations."

Robinson also received the National Medal of Arts by former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at a Washington, D.C., ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in 2002.

16 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Father-Daughter Bond

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Smokey Robinson/Instagram

Robinson is the father of three kids, but his relationship with his only daughter, Tamla, is closer than ever. Whether it's Father's Day, National Father-Daughter Day or just a random appreciation post, the two are always sharing sweet photos with each other. He also has a close bond with Tamla's daughter – his granddaughter, Lyric Ontiveros.

17 of 17

Smokey Robinson's Latest Projects

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At 83, Robinson shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon – and is continuing to further his mark on the Motown sound.

In December 2021, Robinson starred alongside Tia Mowry in Miracle in Motor City, a Lifetime Christmas film about a social worker who tries to book the "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" singer to perform at her church's annual Christmas pageant.

Most recently, Robinson partnered with Motown and ABC's The Wonder Years to create a playlist that celebrates music of the late 1960s titled Return to Wonder.

In 2023, the artist announced he has a new album dropping in April, the cheekily titled GASMS.

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