It's Tuesday, February 19, and you know that it is time for another look back through time in the “Tuesday Timeline”. Now, this month, we're giving the Tuesday Timeline the “Black History Month” treatment, and while this featured subject may not have done much in the way of civil rights, he has had tons of success doing what he loves best, and he has recorded some of the most recognizable songs in the genre known as pop music, and is still going strong today.
Before we get on with today's subject, we need to take a look at what else was happening in the world on February 19. Let's look at some history, shall we?
356 – Emperor Constantius II issues a decree that effectively closes all pagan temples within the Roman Empire
1600 – South America records its most violent volcanic eruption when the Peruvian stratovolcano Huaymaputina explodes
1674 – The Treaty of Westminster is signed by England and The Netherlands, effectively ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War
1807 – Former Vice-President of the United States Aaron Burr is arrested on charges of treason in Alabama
1819 – British explorer William Smith discovers the South Shetland Islands, and claims them in the name of King George III
1846 – The newly formed Texas state government is officially installed in Austin, following the annexation of Texas by the United States
1852 – The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity is established at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania
1859 – New York Congressman Daniel E. Sickles becomes the first person to be acquitted on charges on murder due to the defense of 'temporary insanity'
1876 – The National Amateur Press Association (NAPA) is founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1878 – Thomas Edison patents the phonograph
1884 – A huge outbreak of tornadoes (sixty in total) bears down on the Southern United States
1942 – Franklin D. Roosevelt signs executive order 9066, allowing the United States to relocate Japanese-Americans to Japanese internment camps
1945 – 30,000 United States Marines land on the island of Iwo Jima, which begins the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II
1949 – Ezra Pound becomes the first recipient of the Bollingen Prize in poetry
1953 – Censorship: Georgia approves the first literature censorship board in the United States
1959 – The United Kingdom grants independence to the island nation of Cyprus
1960 – China successfully launches the T-7, its first sounding rocket
1963 – Betty Friedan's “The Feminine Mystique” is published, which reawakens the feminist movement within the United States
1972 – The Asama-Sanso hostage standoff begins in Japan
1976 – Executive Order 9066, which was passed by President Roosevelt is rescinded by President Gerald Ford's Proclamation 4417
1978 – Egyptian forces raid Larnaca International Airport to intervene in a hijacking, without authorization from the Republic of Cyprus authorities
1980 – AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott is found dead of acute alcohol poisoning at just thirty-three years of age
1985 – Artificial heart recipient William J. Schroeder becomes the first person to leave the hospital after the procedure; would live for 680 days after the procedure
1986 – The Soviet Union launches Mir spacecraft, which would stay in orbit until 2001
1999 – President Bill Clinton issues a posthumous pardon for United States Army Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper
2001 – The Oklahoma City Bombing Museum is dedicated at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, nearly six years after the tragedy
2002 – Mars Odyssey space probe begins to map surface of Mars using its thermal emission imaging system
2006 – Sixty-five miners are killed after a methane explosion takes place in a Mexican coal mine
And, to the following celebrities, I wish a very happy birthday...Joseph P. Kerwin, Robert Walker Jr., Gwen Taylor, David Gross, Paul Krause, Lou Christie, Homer Hickam, Michael Nader, Paul Dean (Loverboy), Hiroshi Fujioka, Mark Andes (Heart), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Stephen Nichols, Amy Tan, Bill Kirchenbauer, Francis Buchholz (Scorpions), Jeff Daniels, Kathleen Beller, Dave Wakeling (General Public), Lorianne Crook, Ray Winstone, Helen Fielding, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Andy Wallace, Seal, Jessica Tuck, Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Justine Bateman, Benicio del Toro, Lisa McCune, Eric Lange, Daniel Adair (Nickelback), Jahidi White, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Andrew Buchan, Neleh Dennis, Mike Miller, Gil Reyes, Chris Richardson, Haylie Duff, and Victoria Justice.
Wow...looking back on this day, a lot of music stars have a February 19 birthday. And, as luck would have it, so does our featured blog topic.
He was born on February 19, 1940, making him seventy-three years old today!
Born in Detroit, Michigan, today's blog subject began getting into show business when he was just a teenager, and with his band, he not only signed on to one of the most successful record labels of all time, but he also had a hand in inspiring the very creation of that record label! He achieved great success with the band, and continued that success with a solo career that thrived. I would estimate that he has been in the music industry for almost sixty years total, and I don't see any sign of him slowing down any time soon.
This is the story of William Robinson Jr...otherwise known as Smokey.
Now, here's an interesting tale as to how he got the nickname of Smokey. No, he wasn't a chain smoker, or an heir to a cigar company...but it does have an interesting backstory that is related to the topic of “Black History Month”. When Smokey was a little boy, he had an uncle who called him “Smokey Joe”. As he told several reporters over the years, as a child, he had always believed that the nickname was due to the fact that he loved watching western films, but he later discovered that the name “Smokey” was actually a slang term for a dark-skinned black person. Although Smokey was born with light coloured skin, his uncle purposely gave him the name so that he would never forget the fact that he was black.
TRIVIA: Another interesting fact about Smokey Robinson was that he happened to be the next door neighbour of another future star of Motown Records, Diana Ross. Smokey has revealed that he has known Diana Ross since she was eight years old!
Smokey Robinson began to show interest in music in his childhood as he listened to groups such as Billy Ward and His Dominoes and Nolan Strong & The Diablos. In 1955, when Robinson was just fifteen, he formed a band with Ronald White and Pete Moore. Two years later, Bobby Rogers (who was ALSO born on February 19, 1940) had joined the group, which began calling themselves The Matadors, and a year later, Claudette Rogers and Marv Tarplin rounded out the group. Another name change would take place right around the time that Tarplin joined the group.
The new name? The Miracles.
August 1957 marked a key event in the future of the band when they happened to meet up with Berry Gordy. At the time, the Miracles were trying to bounce back after a failed audition at a rival record company, and Gordy was incredibly impressed by Smokey's vocal abilities, as well as his natural talent for songwriting.
And, with help from Gordy, the Miracles had their first single release through End Records. It was in 1958, and the song was an answer song to the Silhouettes' single “Get A Job”. The song title? “Got A Job”. Now, the single wasn't overly successful, but it did help Smokey and the Miracles get their feet wet.
Now, here's an interesting fact about Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. He was actually the one who gave Gordy the advice to open up his own record label. That label was Motown Records. And, naturally, Smokey's band was among the first acts to sign onto the new record label when it was formed in 1959.
Right off the bat, The Miracles began to have instant success with their new label, and their lengthy career began with the release of this single.
ARTIST: The Miracles
SONG: Shop Around
ALBUM: Hi...We're The Miracles
DATE RELEASED: September 27, 1960
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #2
“Shop Around” was a very successful single, as it peaked at #2 on the Billboard 100, and became a #1 hit on the R & B charts, the first #1 hit ever for Motown Records. It was also the first single of Motown Records to sell more than a million copies.
Other hits soon followed, including “You've Really Got A Hold On Me”, “I Second That Emotion”, “The Tracks Of My Tears”, “More Love”, and “Tears of a Clown”. The band recorded and toured as “The Miracles” until 1965, when the name of the band changed to “Smokey Robinson & The Miracles”. This continued until July 1972, when Smokey left the band to embark on a solo career. Of course, by then, he had gotten married and had two children, and had been serving as Motown's Vice-President following the departure of Esther Gordy Edwards from the position.
It should also be noted that when Smokey Robinson & The Miracles were in their heyday, Robinson was using his songwriting skills to help other artists signed with Motown Records develop their careers as well. Some of the songs he wrote were performed by Mary Wells...
...and Brenda Holloway, just to name a few.
Quite an impressive resume, wouldn't you say?
In 1973, Robinson began his solo career with the album “Smokey”, but the album didn't do so well, nor did his follow-up efforts. And, to add to the struggle came a slow-burning addiction to marijuana and cocaine, which intensified during the early 1980s following the death of his father, his marital problems, and the murder of Motown label mate Marvin Gaye in 1984.
TRIVIA: Smokey Robinson eventually kicked his drug habit in 1986 after taking the advice of a friend to visit a church. He has been clean and sober for almost twenty-seven years and counting since that church visit.
Smokey's solo career also improved, when his former Miracles bandmate Marv Tarplin gave him a hand by offering him a musical composition that he had written, which Robinson penned lyrics to.
In 1979, “Cruisin'” was released, and by the end of the year, it had become Smokey's first Top 5 solo hit, peaking at #4 (and becoming a #1 smash in New Zealand). Two years later, in 1981, Robinson had success with the single “Being With You”, which hit #1 in the United Kingdom, and #2 in the United States. And, following his decision to give up drugs for good, came out with what many regard a comeback album, 1987's “One Heartbeat”. And, the single below helped Smokey earn his very first Grammy Award in 1988.
ARTIST: Smokey Robinson
SONG: Just To See Her
ALBUM: One Heartbeat
DATE RELEASED: February 24, 1987
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #8
NOTE: The above song reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary Charts the week of May 16, 1987.
So, if you've been keeping track, this means that Smokey Robinson had single releases in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. And, in the 1990s, Robinson charted on the R & B charts with “Everything You Touch”, and “Double Good Everything”. Quite an achievement!
Smokey Robinson held the Vice-President role at Motown Records until the late 1980s, following Motown being sold off to RCA. Since then, he still records music, and in the mid-2000s began a record label of his own, Robso Records, of which his latest album, “Time Flies When You're Having Fun” was released.
Smokey Robinson's legacy will forever be imprinted in the world of music, particularly in the genre of rhythm and blues. In 1989, he was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, in 1991, he won the Heritage Award at the Soul Train Music Awards, and in 1993, he was awarded a medal at the National Medal of the Arts. In 2006, he was also honoured at the Kennedy Center Honors, alongside Steven Spielberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Zubin Metha, and Dolly Parton.
I should also mention that in 1987, Smokey Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Solo. WITHOUT The Miracles. And, this decision was considered to be incredibly controversial. Even Smokey Robinson was disgusted by the decision to induct him, but not the other band members who deserved the credit just as much as he did. But in April 2012, the rest of the Miracles were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Controversy aside, Smokey Robinson's contributions to music were nothing short of extraordinary. Kim Carnes, Huey Lewis, and Gwyneth Paltrow have recorded cover versions of some of Smokey's hits, and in 1987, British based band ABC recorded their own tribute to Smokey Robinson entitled “When Smokey Sings”.
I'm not sure that I myself hear violins when Smokey sings...but I will state that as far as music legends go, he ranks right up there.
Happy 73rd birthday, Smokey!