William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. (born February 19, 1940) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and former record executive director. Robinson was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he was also chief songwriter and producer. He led the group from its 1955 origins as “the Five Chimes” until 1972, when he announced his retirement from the group to focus on his role as Motown’s vice president. However, Robinson returned to the music industry as a solo artist the following year. After the sale of Motown Records in 1988, Robinson left the company in 1990.
William Robinson Jr. was born to an African-American father and a mother of African-American and French ancestry into a poor family in the North End area of Detroit, Michigan, United States. His ancestry is part Nigerian, Scandinavian, Portuguese, and Cherokee. His uncle Claude gave him the nickname “Smokey Joe” when he was a child.
He attended Northern High School, where he was above average academically and a keen athlete, though his main interest was music, and he formed a doo-wop group named the Five Chimes. At one point, he and Aretha Franklin lived several houses from each other on Belmont; he once said he’d known Franklin since she was about five.
Robinson’s interest in music started after hearing the groups Nolan Strong & the Diablos and Billy Ward and his Dominoes on the radio as a child, and he has listed Barrett Strong, a Detroit native, as a strong vocal influence. In 1955, he formed the first lineup of the Five Chimes with childhood friend Ronald White and classmate Pete Moore.
Two years later, in 1957, they were renamed the Matadors and included Bobby Rogers. Another member, Emerson (Sonny) Rogers, Bobby Rogers’ cousin, was replaced by his sister, Claudette Rogers (who would marry Smokey Robinson in 1959). The group’s guitarist, Marv Tarplin, joined them sometime in 1958. The Matadors began touring Detroit venues around this time. They later changed their name to the Miracles.