The Miracles, one of Motown's earliest and most enduring groups; released 16 Top 20 pop singles, with and without Smokey, from 1960 through 1976.
Scoring over 40 hits in the R&B Top 40 charts, the Miracles started out as the Five Chimes in the mid-‘50s while the members were still in high school. The Detroit vocal group consisted of William “Smokey” Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore, Clarence “Humble” Dawson, Donald Wicker, and James “Rat” Grice.
Not too long after the group formed, Wicker and Grice left and were replaced by cousins Emerson “Sonny” Rogers and Bobby Rogers, who both sang tenor, and baritonist Ronnie White was in Dawson's place. The vocal quintet then changed their name to the Matadors, and in 1956 Claudette Rogers joined the band after her brother Sonny Rogers was drafted.
The Matadors auditioned for Jackie Wilson's manager, Nat Tarnapol, in 1956. Although Tarnapol wasn't interested, finding the group too similar to the Platters, Jackie Wilson's songwriter Berry Gordy Jr. was, and he soon began producing the band, who now went by the name the Miracles. Gordy produced their first single, “Get a Job,” which was issued by the N.Y. label End Records in 1958.
After one more release on this label, the Miracles recorded their first song for Gordy's new Motown/Tamla label, 1959's “Bad Girl” (which was issued nationally on the Chess label). Next came the first hit for both the group and the label, 1960's “Shop Around,” which reached number one on the R&B charts and number two pop.
The next song by the Miracles to hit the number one R&B spot and reach the pop Top Ten came two years later with “You've Really Got a Hold on Me.” Smokey and Claudette got married in 1963, and she retired from the group a year later. The band's last big hit before they changed their name from the Miracles was “Going to a Go-Go” (1966), which climbed into the Top Five on the R&B charts, and the pop Top 20.
Later that year, “I'm the One You Need” reached the Top 20. After this, the group's name changed to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and they scored two more number one songs: “I Second That Emotion” (1967) and “The Tears of a Clown” (1970).
Smokey left the group to pursue a solo career in 1972 and 20-year-old Billy Griffin was brought in to replace the lead singer. Once again the Miracles, the band scored several more hits, including “Do It Baby” and “Don't Cha Love It,” which both reached the R&B Top Ten. The Miracles experienced a big success in early 1976 with “Love Machine (Part 1),” which reached number one on the pop charts.
The multi-million selling single came off of their second album without Smokey, 1975's City of Angels, and stayed on the charts for over six months, making it the longest-running hit the band ever had. Their final album on the Motown label, The Power of Music, followed.
After this, the Miracles added a new member, Billy Griffin's brother Don, and the band switched over to Columbia Records. Their first CBS release was Love Crazy (1977), which contained a single, “Spy for the Brotherhood,” that was pulled off the record after complaints from the FBI. The group's last charting single, “Mean Machine,” made the R&B Top 100 in 1978.
Billy Griffin pursued a solo career, and Warren “Pete” Moore became a record producer in Detroit. In the late ‘80s, Bobby Rogers started the New Miracles, and in 1990 the Miracles (including Billy Griffin and Claudette Robinson) reunited to re-record “Love Machine” for the U.K. Motorcity label. Ronnie White died from leukemia in 1995 and Griffin died in 2013 from diabetes complications.
- In the summer of 1957, the Matadors ‐ and Smokey’s songs ‐ attract the attention of Berry Gordy at an audition held by the manager of R&B star Jackie Wilson. A writer himself, Gordy is drawn to Robinson’s promise. He signs the group for management, and produces their first 45, “Got A Job,” early in ’58, leasing it to a New York label. The Matadors are now the Miracles, and a career is taking shape.
- “Bad Girl,” an aching doowop ballad, is the Miracles’ first release on the Motown label, part of a new company Gordy has formed. It is leased to Chess Records for national distribution, but Gordy soon brings the Miracles back in-house. “Way Over There” is released on Tamla Records in early 1960, generating their first significant sales. The song, of course, is written by Smokey.
- The Miracles’ golden era begins with “Shop Around,” composed by Berry and Smokey. The advice-laden anthem reaches No. 1 on the R&B charts, and crosses to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 ‐ Motown’s biggest pop hit to date. Its flipside resonates, too: “Who’s Lovin’ You,” a future staple for the Jackson 5 and others.
- Smokey’s prowess as a writer for other Motown acts ‐ Mary Wells, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye ‐ is polished anew with a pair of Marvelettes gems, “Don’t Mess With Bill” and “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game,” while “I Second That Emotion” is Top 5 for the Miracles in December ’67. Co-written with Al Cleveland, it’s their biggest crossover accomplishment since “Shop Around.” Al is an asset, who pens with Smokey seven of the quartet’s next eight singles, including “Baby Baby Don’t Cry,” yet another Top 10 tune.
- The triumph of “The Tears Of A Clown” delays Smokey’s planned departure from the Miracles. He is tired of the road, wants to spend more time with Claudette, and is drawn to a solo career, focusing first on making records for others. In January 1972, Smokey declares his intention to leave after a summer farewell tour with the group. The curtain falls in Washington, D.C., where the shows are recorded for a live album, 1957-1972, celebrating the extraordinary legacy of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
- In 1983, Smokey reunites with his band mates for the Motown 25 TV extravaganza. Four years later, he is recognized with a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 2012, the honor is bestowed upon his fellow Miracles. On that occasion, the star who inducts them is… Smokey Robinson. It’s sweet harmony.