Smokey Robinson is an American singer, composer, record producer, and former executive director of the record industry. He was the founding member and lead singer of the Motown group the Miracles. He was also the principal songwriter and producer for the group.
He was the leader of the group from its start in 1955 as “The Five Chimes” until 1972, when he quit focusing on his job as vice president of Motown. However, Robinson returned to the music industry the next year as a solo artist. Following the sale of the firm in 1988, Robinson left Motown Records in 1990.
Robinson was elected into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and granted the 2016 Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress for his lifelong contributions to popular music. He was given a star on the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame in 2022.
Early Years and Education
William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. was born into a poor family in the North End neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan on February 19, 1940. His mother was of African-American and French descent.
Robinson is descended from Nigerian, Scandinavian, Portuguese, and Cherokee forebears. When he was a child, his uncle Claude called him “Smokey Joe.” Robinson said this in 2012:
My favorite uncle was Claude, who was also my godfather. I was really, really close to him. When I was a little boy, he took me to cowboy movies all the time because I loved them. He gave me a cowboy name.
It was Smokey Joe. So, when I was three years old and people asked me what my name was, I told them my name was Smokey Joe instead of William. Everyone called me that until I was about 12 years old when I stopped saying, Joe. I’ve heard that he gave it to me because I’m a black man with light skin, but that isn’t true.
He attended Northern High School, where he excelled academically and was a talented athlete. Nonetheless, music was his primary passion, and he founded the Five Chimes, a doo-wop group. At one time, he and Aretha Franklin shared a home in Belmont.
He once said that he had known Franklin since she was about five years old when he came to play with her older brother Clarence after her family moved to Memphis. When he arrived to play with Clarence, he stated, he had heard her playing the piano.
Robinson developed an interest in music as a child after hearing Nolan Strong & the Diablos and Billy Ward and his Dominoes on the radio. He has also said that Barrett Strong, who is from Detroit, was a big influence on his voice. In 1955, he put together the first Five Chimes band with his childhood friend Ronald White and a classmate named Pete Moore.
Is Smokey Robinson Gay?
No, Smokey Robinson is Not Gay and His Sexual Orientation is Straight. Robinson married Claudette Rogers, who was also a member of the Miracles, in 1959.
The couple had two children: Berry Robinson, born in 1968 and named after Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown’s first record company, and Tamla Robinson, who was born in 1971 and named after Gordy’s first label, “Tamla,” which became Motown.
During his marriage to Claudette, Robinson had a son with another lady named Trey, who was born in 1984. After claiming he had a child with someone other than his wife, Robinson filed for a legal separation and later for a divorce.
In 1986, they officially split up. In 1974, the Robinsons also separated. During this time, Robinson had an affair outside of his marriage, which was the inspiration for the song “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (later featured in A Quiet Storm).
Robinson was married to Frances Gladney in May 2002. They possess a residence in Pittsburgh that they use to produce wine.