“When someone picks up one of my songs and records it, I’m a flattered man; it’s a blessing to me.”
The quote above comes from a man considered worldwide as one of the greatest songwriters of all time: William “Smokey” Robinson. The talented songwriter also possesses one of the most recognizable signing voices with many hits as evidence of his popularity. However, the most remarkable thing about this very talented musician is that he is still performing and recording, with almost sixty years in the music industry. It is no wonder that Smokey Robinson considers himself blessed. The discography of the music he has written over the years is astounding. Then again, when you think of Smokey Robinson’s start in the music business, and the stream of time surrounding many of his big hits, we all might understand clearly how he became a living legend.
Possibly one of the biggest events that influenced his career at the start was meeting Berry Gordy before Gordy went on to start Motown Records. Gordy was impressed with Robinson’s vocals and even more impressed with Robinson’s ambitious songwriting. With his help, his singing group the Miracles released their first single, “Got a Job” on End Records. After a number of failures and difficulties with money, Robinson suggested to Gordy that he start his own label. Gordy formed Tamla Records, which was later reincorporated as Motown. The Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the label. In late 1960, the group recorded their first hit single, “Shop Around”, which became Motown’s first million-selling hit record.
Between 1960 and 1970, Robinson would produce 26 top forty hits with the Miracles as lead singer, chief songwriter and producer, including several top ten hits such as “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”, “I Second That Emotion”, “Baby Baby Don’t Cry” and the group’s only number-one hit during their Robinson years, “Tears of a Clown”. Robinson also served as Vice President of Motown until it was sold in 1988.
When I think about the musical acts recording on the Motown label, I realize the job of Vice President was a very important role in Motown and overall music history. I really took notice of Motown as the Jackson 5 soon arrived and became a huge successful family act for record company. Robinson must have been instrumental in their success. However, at this time Motown was rolling along well in the recording industry with many other successful artists. Robinson voiced his opinion on wanting to retire from the road to concentrate on raising his two children with his wife Claudette, and concentrate on his job as Vice President. Robinson’s retirement would be short-lived as he soon embarked on his solo career, which brought about more hit songs. What factors created such longevity for Smokey Robinson?
After reading the Smokey Robinson quote above, make a list in you mind of the most successful songwriters of popular music. Who is on your list? Carole King, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and most likely Smokey Robinson are prominently posted in you mind. The one factor they all have in common is multiple artists have recorded their music over a long period. In fact, other artists record much of their music even today. Robinson was right when he made the statement about a song having longevity. Good songs never expire. They continue to be a part of our lives forever.
As Robinson is concerned, his songs are not just Motown hits. Various artists of different genres are still singing and recording his music. Take as an example Robinson’s “Ooo Baby Baby”. The song, originally recorded by The Miracles, has been recorded by The Five Stairsteps, Shalamar and Linda Ronstadt and later by the R & B group Zapp. Most likely, another artist or two will record it again.
Smokey Robinson has received numerous awards including the Grammy Living Legend Award, NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorary Doctorate (Howard University), Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts Award from the President of the United States. He received his induction into both the Rock ‘n’ Roll and Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. At its 138th Commencement Convocation in May 2006, Howard University conferred on Robinson the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa.
After receiving all the accolades of a full musical career, Robinson, at the age of seventy-four, has given a gift to his fans worldwide. Last month Robinson released Smokey Robinson – Friends, an album of duets with stars such as Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and John Legend to name a few. Upon listening to the album, I could understand why it reached number 12 on the Billboard album chart – Smokey’s second highest-charting solo album ever. If you have not heard or purchased the album, make sure and download it soon. You will not be disappointed. Yes, we are still in the middle of the quiet storm.