Smokey Robinson: Legendary Singer, Songwriter and Motown Executive

Born William Robinson Jr. in Detroit, Mich., the songwriter was instrumental in crafting the Motown sound.

When we speak of Motown royalty, one of the first artists who comes to mind if Detroit’s own Smokey Robinson.

William Robinson, Jr., was born February 19, 1940 in Detroit, Mich., but has been called Smokey most of his life. He became a prolific songwriter, producer, singer, Motown records executive and founder of The Miracles.

“Time is the greatest healer that there is. With time, tragedy becomes comedy.” — Smokey Robinson, musician

Robinson’s relationship with Motown Records founder Berry Gordy began when he was 16 and auditioning for Jackie Wilson, a soul singer and performer. Gordy was present and observing. 

“We sang five songs that I had written. After the audition was over and we were all rejected, Berry came out to us and he made the mistake of asking me if I had any more songs,” Robinson recalls. “I must have sang 20 songs for him that day at least. He just listened and critiqued every song. I could rhyme really good, but my songs had no continuity.”

Years later, when Gordy decided to launch his own label, Robinson was right there with him and eventually would be named vice president of Motown Records.

Robinson continues to make music and collaborate with other artists just like he did decades ago at Motown. He credits his long career navigating the unpredictable nature of the music business to a longterm view he’s adopted. 

“Time is the greatest healer that there is,” Robinson said. “With time, tragedy becomes comedy. Something that you thought was unbearable, ten years from now you’ll laugh about it.”

Listen: Ann Delisi on Smokey Robinson’s beginnings in Motown and his long career as a songwriter and performer.

In this tribute:

  • Robinon’s early years with Motown and his relationship with Gordy. 
  • Hits from the song man’s career.
  • Why The Miracles changed their name to Smokey and the Miracles in 1965.
  • His favorite album of all-time and relationship.
  • The final song that delayed his retirement and his one regret from a long career.


The Miracles’ “Shop Around” (1960)

While Smokey was helping Berry Gordy build Motown, he was also the lead writer and singer for The Miracles, the group that would deliver the Motown Corporations first million selling hit as well as the The Miracles first hit song, “Shop Around.” 

It was released in 1960 on the Tamla label and would do on to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and named by the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that helped shape rock n’ roll. 

Smokey and the Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go” (1965)

In 1965, the group changed their name to Smokey and the Miracles, and released hits like “Going to a Go-Go,” “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry,” “More Love,” and “I Second That Emotion.”

When he was at Motown, he was writing and producing hit songs for other Motown artists.

The Temptations’ “Get Ready” (1966)

The Temptations’ “My Girl” (1964)


  • Ann Delisi
    Ann Delisi hosts Essential Music, the Essential Conversations podcast series and the Essential Cooking broadcast and podcast. Born and raised in the Motor City, Ann is a broadcaster, interviewer, producer, music host, storyteller and proud Detroiter.