The Miracles were an American rhythm and blues group that was the first successful recording act for Berry Gordy’s Motown Record Corporation. Formed in 1955 by Smokey Robinson,Warren “Pete” Moore, and Ronnie White, the group started off as The Five Chimes, changing their name to The Matadors two years later. The group then settled on The Miracles after the inclusion of Claudette Robinson in 1958. The most notable Miracles lineup included the Robinsons, Pete Moore, Ronald White, Bobby Rogers and Marv Tarplin. After a failed audition with Brunswick Records, the group began working with songwriter Berry Gordy, who helped to produce their first records for the End and Chess record labels before establishing Tamla Records in 1959 signing the Miracles as its first act. The group eventually scored the label’s first million-selling hit with “Shop Around” in 1960 and further established themselves as one of Motown’s top acts with the hit singles, “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”, “Mickey’s Monkey”, “Going to a Go-Go”, “Ooo Baby Baby”, “Tracks of My Tears” , “I Second That Emotion” , “Baby Baby Don’t Cry” The Tears of a Clown”,”Love Machine” and “My Girl Has Gone”.
Referred to as Motown’s “soul supergroup”, the Miracles recorded over 50 chart hits,including 26 Billboard Top 40 hits, 16 of which reached the top 20 ,six top ten singles and a number-one single, “The Tears of a Clown”, while Robinson was with the group. Following the departure of Marv Tarplin and the Robinsons, the rest of the group continued with singer Billy Griffin and scored two final top forty singles,the top 20 “Do It Baby” and a second number-one hit “Love Machine”, before departing for Columbia Records in 1977 recording as a quintet with Donald Griffin, where after a few releases, they disbanded in 1978.In addition,on the R&B charts, the Miracles also had 26 Top 10 Billboard R&B hits,including 4 R&B number ones. The group continued sporadically as a touring unit until the remaining original Miracle, Bobby Rogers, was forced into retirement due to health issues in 2011.
The group has been given many honors over the years. In 1997, the group received the Pioneer Award at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for their musical achievements. Four years later, in 2001, they were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In 2004, they were ranked thirty-two on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, reaching the same position seven years later, in 2011. Throughout their careers, the Miracles were also enshrined with honors for their songwriting by both BMI and ASCAP. In 2008, Billboard listed them at #61 on their 100 most successful Billboard artists ever list. After much controversy, the Miracles were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
Initial career and success
The group that later became The Miracles was formed in 1955 by five teenage friends from Detroit, Michigan, under the name The Five Chimes. Three of the founding members, Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore and Ronald White had been singing together since they each were around the age of eleven. The group, influenced by acts such as Billy Ward and His Dominoes and Nolan Strong & The Diablos, featured Clarence Dawson and James Grice in the original lineup. All five original members attended Northern High School in Detroit. After Dawson quit the group and Grice dropped out to get married, they were replaced by Emerson “Sonny” Rogers and his cousin Bobby and changed their name to The Matadors. Ironically, both Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers were born in the same hospital on the same month, date and year, despite not actually meeting each other until they were fifteen. In 1957, Sonny Rogers left to join the United States Army and Claudette Rogers, his sister, who had been singing with the sister group The Matadorettes, joined them shortly afterwards. Following two years of courtship, Smokey and Claudette married in November 1959.
The group auditioned for Brunswick Records in front of Alonzo Tucker (an original member of The Midnighters who had since left the group to join Jackie Wilson’s management team), Nat Tarnopol (Jackie Wilson’s manager) and one of the label’s staff songwriters, Berry Gordy, who remained quiet during the audition. Tucker was unimpressed by the audition, stating that because there was The Platters that “there couldn’t be two groups in America like that with a woman in the group.” After Tarnopol and Tucker rejected the group, Gordy followed them and soon agreed to work with the group after discovering Robinson’s notebook full of songs he had written and had been impressed with Robinson’s own singing voice.
Gordy recorded their first recording, “Got a Job”, an answer song to The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” in January 1958. Gordy shortly thereafter struck a deal with George Goldner’s End Records to distribute the single. Before the song was released, the group changed their name to The Miracles, taking it from the moniker “Miracletones”, with the “‘Tones” taking out. After earning only $3.19 for his production success, Gordy was told by Robinson to form his own label, which Gordy did, forming Tamla Records in 1959. One of the Miracles’ first Tamla singles, the ballad “Bad Girl”, became the Miracles’ first song to chart that October when it was licensed to and issued nationally by Chess Records. The next Miracles song, “It”, was actually credited to “Ron & Bill”, in a duet between White and Robinson, and was released on Tamla and nationally picked by Argo Records. Following a dismal reception at the Apollo Theater in 1959, Robinson recruited guitarist Marv Tarplin to join them on a few touring dates after Tarplin played with The Primettes (later The Supremes), with Tarplin officially joining them shortly afterwards. The addition of Tarplin was the random element that made The Miracles “classic lineup” complete .
In 1960, the Miracles reached the charts with the song “Way Over There”, which Robinson wrote and based off The Isley Brothers’ “Shout”. It was released off the Motown label as its first national release. Later that year, the group, returning to Tamla, the group released the song, Shop Around”,backed with “Who’s Lovin’ You” which became the group’s first smash hit, reaching number-one on the R&B charts,#2, Pop, on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 Pop on the Cash Box Magazine “Top 100″ Chart, and was the first Motown single to sell well over a million copies. Both sides of this record became standards for R&B and rock musicians alike for several decades afterwards. As a result of this success, The Miracles became the first-ever Motown act to appear on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” on December 27, 1960. The Miracles had modest success with their next few singles, including “Ain’t It Baby”, “Mighty Good Lovin'”, “Brokenhearted” and “Everybody’s Gotta Pay Some Dues”, as 1961 continued. During this early period, the group suffered some problems as Robinson caught the Asian Flu and had to be bedded for a month, Claudette Robinson suffered her first miscarriage that occurred after a car accident and Moore was drafted to serve in the United States Army. The group’s next charted successes included “What’s So Good About Goodbye”, and the string-laden “I’ll Try Something New”.
The group reached the top ten again with “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” in 1962, reaching the top ten again with “Mickey’s Monkey” the following year. The group’s exciting live performances were so well received that they were often referred to as “The Showstoppers”. The Miracles’ success paved the way for all future Motown stars, and ,as Motown’s first group, they would serve as the prototype for all other Motown groups to follow. The Miracles had become a national sensation,and their success catapulted them to the position of Motown’s top-selling act, making them headliners at the nationwide package Motortown Revue shows,which showcased Motown artists,and that started around late 1962. In addition to penning their own material, Miracles Robinson, White, Rogers, Tarplin, and Moore wrote for many of their labelmates as well. Motown hits written, but not recorded, by members of the Miracles include songs for the Temptations (“The Way You Do The Things You Do”, “My Girl”, “Don’t Look Back”, “Since I Lost My Baby”, “It’s Growing”, “Get Ready”, “My Baby”), Mary Wells’ (“My Guy”, “The One Who Really Loves You”, “What Love Has Joined Together”, “Two Lovers”), Marvin Gaye (“I’ll Be Doggone”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”), The Marvelettes’ (“Don’t Mess With Bill”, “My Baby Must Be a Magician)”, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” , The Contours’ (“First I Look at the Purse), and Brenda Holloway’s (“When I’m Gone”). Unlike other Motown artists, whose songs were written by staff songwriters, the Miracles were one of the few Motown acts that composed their own songs, adding to the group’s already impressive reputation.
Around 1964, Smokey Robinson became Motown’s vice president, while the other members of the Miracles also began to work staff jobs with the company. Claudette Robinson retired from the performing stage in 1964 after another miscarriage, her sixth. After Claudette Robinson’s departure, The remaining Miracles appeared in The T.A.M.I. Show, a 1964 concert film, released by American International Pictures. that included performances by numerous popular rock and roll and R&B musicians from the United States and England, and filmed and recorded live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 28 and 29, 1964. This film also included performances by fellow Motown artists The Supremes and Marvin Gaye, along with Chuck Berry, Lesley Gore , The Beach Boys , The Rolling Stones , and James Brown and The Famous Flames.The Miracles’ performance was one of the show’s highlights, called ” athletically electrifying” by critics. Miracles chart hit singles that year included “That’s What Love Is Made Of” (which they sang in the film), and “I Like It Like That” . In 1965, the group released their landmark Top 10 album, Going to a Go-Go, under the moniker, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. This album launched four top 20 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Tracks of My Tears”, “Ooo Baby Baby”, “Going to a Go-Go” and “My Girl Has Gone”, all of which became top ten R&B hit singles as well. During this period, their music had also made its way abroad influencing several British groups along the way. The effects of this influence became even more pronounced when The Beatles , The Hollies, The Zombies, The Who, and The Rolling Stones all began recording covers of Miracles’ hits.Members of The Beatles, in particular,publicly stated that the music of The Miracles greatly influenced their own.
Around this time, the group had begun performing in nightclubs and other high-profile venues after years on the chitlin’ circuit. According to an Ebony article on the group, the group began grossing $150,000 a year due to royalties and personal investments. They also were making between $100,000 and $250,000 for nightly shows. In addition, The Miracles also appeared on many of the popular variety television programs of the period, including The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, Where The Action Is, The Mike Douglas Show, The Andy Williams Show,Teen Town ,Hollywood A Go-Go, Upbeat, and Britain’s Ready Steady Go!. The Miracles’ success continued with several hits including “(Come ‘Round Here) I’m the One You Need”, “Special Occasion” , “If You Can Want”,and the Top 10 hits “I Second That Emotion”,and “Baby Baby Don’t Cry”. Around this time, the group was starting to be billed as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles on several of their albums. The name change didn’t appear on their singles until the release of “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage”, a Top 20 hit released in 1967.On that song’s flipside was the tune“Come Spy with Me”. The Miracles sang the original theme to the 1967 20th Century Fox film of the same name.
Due to constant changes in the music industry and Motown, however, by 1969, Smokey Robinson sought to leave the Miracles and the stage, to settle for continued work as Motown’s vice president as well as become more of a family man to his wife and children. Robinson’s plans however were thwarted after the Miracles’ 1967 song, “Tears of a Clown”, was released in 1970, and became a number-one hit in the U.K. It was subsequently released in the U.S., where it duplicated it’s U.K. success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Chart.As a result, Robinson decided to stay with the group for another two years .In 1970, the group were given their own ABC television special, The Smokey Robinson Show, which starred The Miracles, with guest stars The Supremes , The Temptations , Stevie Wonder, and Fran Jeffries. In 1971, they scored one more top 20 hit with 1971’s “I Don’t Blame You At All”. In 1972, Robinson made good on his promise to leave the Miracles, starting a six-month tour which ended in July 1972 at Washington, D.C., later introducing Billy Griffin as his official replacement.This series of final live Miracles concerts with Smokey was released by Motown on the double album “Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: 1957–1972″(Tamla TS320). Billy Griffin was introduced to national television audiences on NBC’s The Midnight Special, on an episode guest-starring The Miracles and hosted by Smokey Robinson, broadcast on July 13, 1973. Within a year afterwards, Marv Tarplin also decided to leave the group and continued working with Robinson on his solo material,while Claudette, who had essentially retired from the Miracles’ live performances in 1964, permanently left the Miracles when her husband Smokey did, retiring from recording with them as well.
In 1973, the Miracles, with Griffin, re-emerged with the critically acclaimed album, Renaissance,Their first-ever album without Smokey Robinson on lead vocals, which included the Marvin Gaye composition, “I Love You Secretly”, “What Is A Heart Good For”, and the charting single,”Don’t Let It End (Til You Let It Begin)”. The following year, in 1974,after releasing the single “Give Me Just Another Day”, the group had their first top 20 hit in three years with the million-selling funk song, “Do It Baby”. This was followed by the top 10 R&B hit, “Don’t-Cha Love It.” Late that following year, the group recorded the disco anthem, “Love Machine”, which came off their self-produced hit album, City of Angels. “Love Machine” reached number-one on the Hot 100 in early 1976, the Miracles’ first since “Tears of a Clown”, and later sold over 4.5 million copies. In 1976, the Miracles’ relationship with Motown imploded during contract renewals after their contract with the label had expired. When Motown, then going through a contract issue with Stevie Wonder, advised the group to wait “six months” to discuss a new contract, the group took on an offer to sign with Columbia Records, signing with them in 1977. Following this, Billy’s brother Donald joined them on lead guitar. The group immediately had problems after signing with Columbia, starting with the release of their first Columbia single, “Spy For Brotherhood”. Expecting controversy from the single as well as possible threats from the FBI, Columbia pulled the song from airwaves. The group failed to have a hit during their short Columbia run and in 1978, Pete Moore decided to retire from the road while Billy Griffin wanted to return to his solo career, leading to the group to disband.
In 1980, Ronnie White and Bobby Rogers decided to carry on with the Miracles as a touring unit replacing Pete Moore and Billy Griffin with Dave Finley and Carl Cotton, which carried on for three years as “The New Miracles”. This version of the Miracles was short-lived though after White decided to retire from show business following the death of his wife Earlyn, who died from breast cancer in 1983, disbanding the group again. Around this same time, most of the original Miracles including Smokey Robinson and Claudette Robinson as well as Pete Moore, Marv Tarplin, and Bobby Rogers reunited to perform a medley of their songs on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. White was burying his wife Earlyn,a cancer victim,around this time and wasn’t able to attend. Following his exit from The Miracles, Smokey Robinson enjoyed a successful solo career; in 1979, he and Tarplin co-wrote his signature hit, “Cruisin'”. Following his reunion with the original Miracles on Motown 25, Robinson dealt with dependence on cocaine, which affected his life and career, he later found sobriety in the late 1980s and revived his singing career, with the Grammy Award-winning single, “Just to See Her”. In 1986, Smokey’s marriage with Claudette Robinson ended in divorce, as did Bobby’s marriage to Marvelettes member Wanda Young . After the release of a 35th anniversary commemorative compilation album in 1993, Ronnie White and Bobby Rogers decided to regroup the Miracles yet again, with Dave Finley returning to the fold and Sidney Justin, formerly of Shalamar, replacing Carl Cotton. Two years later, White died from a longtime bout with leukemia, leaving the remaining Miracles as a trio until Tee Turner joined the group in 2001. The group had continued to perform sporadically with this lineup until 2011 but stopped after Bobby Rogers retired due to health problems, resulting in the group’s permanent disbandment.
During their tenure, the Miracles were awarded several times for their songwriting work from both the BMI and ASCAP songwriting organizations. In 1997, the Miracles were honored by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation with the Pioneer Award for their contributions to music. In 2001, the group was inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Three years later, the Miracles were included in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time at #32, still holding to that position in a revised 2011 edition,making The Miracles the highest-ranking Motown group on the Rolling Stone listing. In both editions, they were immortalized by rock musician Bob Seger, who grew up a Miracles fan. In 2006, Woodbridge Estates, an exclusive residential development in Detroit, named their community park “Miracles Park” and one of its streets “Miracles Boulevard”, in recognition of the legendary Motown group’s importance to the city, and as a tribute to their many accomplishments in the music industry.
In 2009, all the known members of the group (including Billy Griffin) got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, attended by Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder, who thanked the Miracles (in particular Ronnie White, who brought the then 11-year-old to Motown’s studios), for discovering him. Gordy added that without the Miracles, “Motown would not be the Motown that it is today”. In 2011, the Miracles were inducted to the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame. That same year, Goldmine magazine named them as one of the twenty greatest doo-wop groups of all time. Finally, in 2012, 25 years after frontman Smokey Robinson’s controversial solo induction, the rest of the original Miracles were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Robinson inducting them along with five other groups. The group’s induction meant that they would be retroactively included with Robinson under the premise that they should have been inducted with him back in 1987. The inducted members were original members Claudette Rogers-Robinson, Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White (posthumously), and Marv Tarplin (posthumously) .
The original lineup of the group has consistently been revered by several critics in major rock and music magazines and have received numerous honors and awards for their contributions to the music industry. One of their most honored songs, “The Tracks of My Tears”, was included in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry because of its “culturally, historically and aesthetically significance” in 2008. It was also chosen as one of the Top 10 Best Songs of All Time by a panel of 20 top industry songwriters and producers including Hal David, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Jerry Leiber, and others as reported to Britain’s Mojo music magazine, and was also winner of “The Award Of Merit” from The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) for the song’s writers, Miracles members Pete Moore, Marv Tarplin and Smokey Robinson. In addition, “The Tracks of My Tears” has been ranked by the Recording Industry Association of America and The National Endowment for the Arts at #127 in its list of the Songs of the Century – the 365 Greatest Songs of the 20th Century. Their 1965 album, Going to a Go-Go is listed on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Four of the group’s songs were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame including “You Really Got a Hold on Me”, “Tears of a Clown”, “Shop Around” and “Tracks of My Tears”. In addition, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”, “Going to a Go-Go”, “Shop Around” and “Tracks of My Tears” were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of their 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list. The group was also ranked #61 on VH-1’s 100 Greatest Rock Stars of All Time in 1998 while also ranking at #71 on Billboard’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2008.
Commenting to Rolling Stone Magazine, Bob Seger said: “I used to go to the Motown Revues, and The Miracles always closed the show. They were that good, and everybody knew it.” Producer Quincy Jones called the group the “Beethovens of The 20th Century” due to their songwriting talents. In addition, the Miracles have been regarded as the most covered act in Motown’s roster and have influenced numerous artists in the last 50 years.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame controversy
In 1987, former frontman Smokey Robinson was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame without the inclination of his fellow Miracles, which Robinson expressed deep regret and shock that his group-mates weren’t inducted with him. Of the snub, Miracle Pete Moore told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “It was a slap in the face, very disappointing. We are the premiere group of Motown. We were there before there was a Motown. We set the pace for all the other artists to come after us. We were a little older, and the other artists looked up to us. How could we not be in there?” Moore later stated, “When Terry Stewart [Rock Hall president and CEO] called and told me we were to be inducted, he was apologetic,” Moore said. “He said it should have been done years ago, everybody knew it. He said they received many, many calls over the years from angry (Miracles) fans.”
Smokey Robinson had previously told Billboard Magazine that he had been lobbying for the Miracles since his own induction (in 1987) — “making calls and signing petitions and everything, because they really deserve it.” Though some felt Robinson should’ve been included as an inductee with the other Miracles, Robinson said, “I don’t really even care about that. I’m already in there. I don’t understand why it was, like, a task to get the Miracles in there. We were one of the hottest and most prolific groups in the world at that time, so I don’t understand the hesitancy.” Claudette Robinson stated, “When I spoke to (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum President and CEO) Terry Stewart, he said he got no less than 900 e-mails per day saying the Miracles should be inducted, and why aren’t they?” Claudette Robinson says. “I was surprised by that. I would think five or 10, but he said that amount, so it’s a lot of people that were really pulling for us. You have to be thankful and grateful for that.” However, before this decision, Miracle Marv Tarplin died in September 2011, just months before the induction ceremony.
An editor of the musical site, Digital Dream Door, commented on the induction by saying the oversight of the Miracles’ exclusion was “outrageous” pointing out Robinson’s solo induction went against its own rules since Robinson had only spent 14 years as a solo performer and his name wasn’t in front of the group’s until 1967. He further stated the Miracles were “the heartbeat of Motown in the 1960’s, one of the best vocal groups ever formed and owners of some of the greatest records rock has ever produced.” He stated also that with The Miracles’ induction,the Hall “remedied its most shameful chapter and the biggest miracle is it took this long to do it.”
|Also known as||The Five Chimes, The Matadors, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles|
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, USA|
|Genres||R&B, doo-wop, rock’n’roll, soul, funk, disco|
|Years active||1955–1978; 1980-1983; 1993–2011|
|Robert “Bobby” Rogers
Ronald “Ronnie” White
Warren “Pete” Moore
William “Smokey” Robinson
Emerson “Sonny” Rogers
Claudette Rogers Robinson
Marvin “Marv” Tarplin
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