The genesis of the Miracles stretches back to Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, two precocious fifth graders who started singing doo-wop together in the early 1950s. Several years later — at Detroit’s Northern High School — the pair enlisted three more members to become The Five Chimes.
Following a series of line-up and name changes, the teenaged quintet (then-known as the Matadors) auditioned for Detroit soul star Jackie Wilson’s manager, who famously turned them down for sounding too much like the Platters. In the process, they attracted the attention of Berry Gordy, then working as one of Wilson’s chief songwriters, who saw their potential and offered to manage them.
Dropping a series of one-off singles that won them regional buzz, the group grew chagrined with the lack of monetary return. Opting to start Motown (with Robinson quickly coming aboard as the label’s vice-president), the Miracles became closely aligned with the imprint’s heyday, issuing a run of classic songs that has never been matched. Boasting sugary melodies, impeccable song structure, and seraphic harmonies, songs like “My Girl Has Gone,” “Tears of My Clown,” “The Tracks of my Tears,” “Shop Around” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” remain indelible components of the great American songbook.
Nicknamed “the Showstoppers,” the Miracles were widely regarded as the most popular Motown group, winning massive respect from their peers — both within the world of rock and the world of soul. Indeed, the Rolling Stones, the Hollies and The Who covered their tunes, while The Beatles widely acknowledged their debt to Robinson and Co.
After over a dozen years in the group, Robinson departed in 1972, taking with him his wife, Claudette Robinson, and guitarist Marv Tarplin. Replaced by new lead singer and guitarist, Billy Griffin, the group managed to write nine more charting singles including 1976’s No. 1 hit, “Love Machine (Part 1).” Two years later, Griffin and Pete Moore retired, effectively ending that incarnation of the group.
Over the last 30 years, the quintet has sporadically reunited for tours and various ad hoc performances. Though they haven’t recorded a new album since 1978, their music continues to wield an enviable longevity, with rap producers Kanye West and J Dilla sampling their work.