Smokey Robinson and the Miracles--of God
by Jim Long
Posted 5/21/16, 09:00 am
The Recording Academy honored Motown legend Smokey Robinson on Thursday night but not for anything he’s done as a musician.
The Grammy group presented Robinson with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his support of the MusicCares Musicians Assistance Program (MAP), an organization that helps musicians struggling with addiction. Cedric the Entertainer hosted the event at The Novo Los Angeles, with performances from the Backstreet Boys, El DeBarge, Cee Lo Green, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, and a closing set by Robinson.
Concert proceeds went to help fund MAP, which helps musicians access recovery programs regardless of their financial condition. Robinson, a professing Christian, has been a strong advocate for MAP and faith-based recovery programs.
For the 76-year old William Robinson Jr.—drug addiction is personal.
“I’ve been blessed to have a truly rewarding career in the music industry, and I’ve worn many hats, from artist and songwriter to producer and executive,” the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said on his website. “I also have experienced firsthand the ravages of addiction, and the role I’m most proud to be associated with is ‘sober.’”
Robinson credits God’s miraculous work in his life as the source of both his sobriety—deliverance from cocaine addiction—and salvation through Christ.
“The Lord had me go through this to let young people know, and everybody know, what it could do to you and that there is a way out,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Divine deliverance after a moment of loss became a recurring theme in Robinson’s life. In August 1957, when he was just a teen, Robinson’s doo wop group the Five Chimes flunked an audition at Brunswick Records. By providence, another young man witnessed the studio disaster. Berry Gordy Jr., a 28-year old songwriter from Oconee, Ga., loved the high schooler’s vocals, was impressed with the lyrics of 100 songs packed into the young man’s “Big 10” notebook, and knew he was on to something. Within a few years, Gordy and Robinson began building a music empire that included Robinson’s neighbor from Detroit’s impoverished North End—Diana Ross.
The Five Chimes became the Miracles and the Motown Sound was born.
Robinson and the Miracles were blessed with massive success in the ’60s—churning out chartbusters like “Shop Around,” “I Second That Emotion,” “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and “The Tears of a Clown.”
But things changed in the ’70s.
In 1972, Robinson left the Miracles to focus on his family and executive position with Motown. He came out of musical retirement a year later, releasing three solo albums between 1973 and 1975 to limited commercial success. This career ebb set the stage for a series of events that led Robinson to place his hope in the finished work of Christ.
Robinson told Guideposts he traces his personal salvation to a strange episode in 1977 when he was home alone: “I was upstairs looking at TV and heard God’s voice say to me, ‘I want you to know my Son, Jesus, and I want you to tell your friends.’” Robinson was convinced he was being pranked: “I heard it audibly, and I thought somebody was playing a joke on me.”
Like a young Samuel running from the Tabernacle to Eli’s bedside under a similar stimulus, Robinson began looking for the voice’s source.
“I searched my closet. I opened the bedroom door, but nobody was there. I was kind of scared, and I didn’t tell anybody,” he said.
Meanwhile, Robinson’s close friend, actor Leon Kennedy, was making a film in the Philippines. He returned with his own strange tale.
“I’m going to tell you something I wouldn’t tell anybody else,” Robinson recalled his friend saying. “About two weeks ago, I was in my hotel bed trying to sleep and I heard this voice saying, ‘Leon, I want you to know my Son, and I want you to tell your friends.’”
A stunned and relieved Robinson told Kennedy about his similar experience: “That was when we both got saved and started our relationship with Jesus.”
The pair joined a Bible study group held at the home of a Motown producer-turned-pastor, but Robinson continued to use marijuana because “weed” was something he was convinced he could “manage.” But his drug use eventually spiraled out of control when he started using cocaine. Robinson’s marriage failed, along with his health.
“All I cared about was the cocaine,” he told The Telegraph.
Robinson’s deliverance came on a Lord’s Day in May 1986. Nearly a decade after they jointly professed their faith in Christ, Kennedy dropped by—without warning—at Robinson’s Los Angeles apartment. Upon seeing his friend’s deteriorated state, Kennedy challenged him.
“Leon stayed and prayed for me all night; he prayed ’til the sun came up; he wouldn’t leave me,” Robinson told CrossRhythms. The next day, Kennedy took Robinson to a bright red and tan storefront church in a South L.A. working class neighborhood called, “Ablaze Ministry.”
While the preacher prayed for him, tears began to track down Robinson’s face. When CBN asked Robinson how he broke his addiction to cocaine, he gave God the credit.
“When I walked in that church that night, I was an addict,” Robinson said in a 2015 video testimony. “When I came out, I was free.”
Jim is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course.