He was born William Robinson in Detroit, Michigan. In 1955, Robinson helped found The Miracles and became lead singer. The group issued a few somewhat successful singles on End Records and Chess Records. In the 1950s, Robinson met Berry Gordy, Jr., founder of Detroit's Motown Records, which became his label. The two men had a synergistic relationship, with Robinson providing a foundation for Motown's hit-making success and Gordy acting as a mentor for the budding singer and songwriter.
The Motown song Shop Around (1960) was the first big hit for The Miracles. This was followed by Mickey's Monkey (1963), I Gotta Dance to Keep From Crying, I Second That Emotion, The Love I Saw In You Was Just a Mirage, Ooo Baby Baby, Baby, Baby, Don't Cry, The Tracks of My Tears and You Really Got a Hold on Me (1962). Later, Mary Wells and The Temptations had big hits with Robinson originals, My Guy and My Girl, respectively.
Legendary singer and songwriter Bob Dylan described Robinson as "America's greatest living poet." Robinson's numerous hit ballads also earned him the title "America's poet laureate of love." Over the course of his almost 50-year career in music, Robinson has over 4,000 songs to his credit.
After marrying Claudette Rogers, a singer with The Miracles, Robinson started towards a solo career. Albums were released as "Smokey Robinson & the Miracles" after 1967. The group faltered somewhat in the early 1970s, though hits such as The Tears of a Clown (1970) still did quite well.
Robinson left The Miracles in 1972. They went on for a while, even having another hit. In 2001, the group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. By this time, Robinson was a vice-president of Motown and he helped helm the label's shift towards an urban, contemporary soul sound. This genre is now called "Quiet Storm" after a radio programming format named for Robinson's biggest solo album title track, Quiet Storm.
His nephew Eric West has a debut album being released in 2005 titled Half | Life.