In addition to being the lead singer of The Miracles, Smokey Robinson was also a songwriter, producer and talent scout for Motown. He composed many hits for The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and other Motown artists.
The Miracles had their first hit in 1960 with the classic, “Shop Around.” The single was also Motown’s first Number One record on the R&B charts and paved the way for both the group’s as well as the record company’s success. Throughout the 1960s, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles were a national sensation. The group appeared on numerous television programs, sang in the concert film, “The T.A.M.I. Show,” headlined Motown’s Motor Town Revue, influenced the Beatles and also performed for the Queen of England.
But it wasn’t until March 31st 1968 that Smokey Robinson and The Miracles made their debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Ed introduced the group in stellar fashion. He quoted Bob Dylan who had called Smokey Robinson, “today’s greatest living American poet.” Sullivan also noted that The Beatles, Sonny and Cher and The Rolling Stones had all recorded songs written by Smokey Robinson.
The group, dressed in snazzy maroon suits, pink shirts, matching maroon bow ties and patent leather shoes, sang a medley featuring “I Second That Emotion,” “If You Can Want” and “Going to a Go-Go.” Towards the end of the medley, Smokey encouraged the audience to clap their hands and participate and they did as Ed smiled from the wings.
“We’re gonna have sing-a-long time on the Ed Sullivan Show!” Smokey sang. The audience enthusiastically followed Smokey’s lead.
After the medley, guitarist Marv Tarplin came on stage to accompany the group on their closing number, a unique rendition of The Beatles’, “Yesterday.” After their performance, Ed called Smokey over to congratulate The Miracles and ask them about their Detroit roots.
In an interview many years later, Smokey Robinson spoke about The Miracles’ debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and about Ed’s imprecise words. He laughingly recalled, “The first time that we were on there, after we had performed, he said “So, how about a big hand for Smokey and The Little Smokeys.” (In actuality, Ed had incorrectly introduced the group that way.)
The Miracles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show one other time on June 1st, 1969. Prior to their performance, Sullivan acknowledged fellow Motown artist Diana Ross who was in attendance that evening.
Ed announced, “Also in our audience tonight, from The Supremes, Diana Ross…Diana!” After she stood and took her bow, looking very attractive in a sexy, all white ensemble, Ed was moved to compliment Ms. Ross. He grasped the lapels of his jacket and smiled broadly, saying “Quite nice there, honey!”
The Miracles’ sartorial splendor continued on stage. Dressed in matching blue satin shirts and royal blue high-waisted pants, Smokey Robinson and his group sang two of their hits: “Doggone Right” and the civil rights anthem, “Abraham, Martin and John.” At the end of the number, the members of the group were called over to shake hands with Sullivan. They talked briefly about the poignancy of their final song and, as they made their exit, Ed plugged their upcoming engagement at New York’s Copacabana nightclub.
Over a twenty year span, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles recorded numerous hits that charted more than 50 times. In 1971, after the group’s last hit, “I Don’t Blame You at All,” Smokey decided to pursue a solo career and focus on his responsibilities as Motown’s Vice President. Robinson would go on to record several solo hits while helping pave the way for many other acts in the music business. For his significant role in the record label’s success, Smokey earned the title, “The King of Motown.”