Warren “Pete” Moore (vocals; born November 19, 1939), Claudette Rogers Robinson (vocals; born September 1, 1942), Bobby Rogers (vocals; February 19, 1940), Marv Tarplin (guitar; born June 13, 1941, died September 30, 2011), Ronnie White (vocals; born April 15, 1939, died August 26, 1995).
In the beginning, the Miracles were a group and William “Smokey” Robinson was the lead singer. The name remained unchanged until 1967, when they became Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – a recognition of Robinson’s indisputable role as frontman, songwriter and guiding light. However, every member of the Miracles was talented, and their satiny harmonies, sharp choreography and other contributions were important to the group’s success.
The Miracles were one of Motown’s most gifted ensembles and among its most long-lived, dating back to their roots as a group at Detroit’s Northern High School. Robinson, Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers actually first sang together in their preteen years. In 1955, Robinson formed the Five Chimes, which consisted of Robinson and Moore, along with high-school classmates James Grice, Clarence Dawson and Donald Wicker. Ronnie White replaced Wicker, Emerson “Sonny” Rogers replaced Dawson, Bobby Rogers replaced Grice, and the group then became the Matadors.
When Sonny Rogers quit to joined the army, Robinson asked Rogers' sister, Claudette – a member of the Matadorettes, their sister band – to join. The lineup was now set. However, because they now had a female member, the name Matadors was no longer appropriate, so they rechristened themselves the Miracles.
“With my singing lead, Claudette on top, Bobby’s tenor under her, Ronnie’s baritone and Pete’s bass on bottom, I felt good about our blend,” Robinson told writer David Ritz.
At a 1957 audition with Jackie Wilson’s manager, the Miracles met Berry Gordy Jr., a budding songwriter and music-business entrepreneur. This fateful introduction would change all of their lives. The Miracles were the first act on Tamla, which was the first label in what would become Gordy’s Motown empire. In fact, it was Robinson who urged Gordy to start his own company after hearing him complain about how little money accrued from their work for other labels. Before the Motown miracle materialized, the Miracles cut their first singles for the End and Chess labels. With Gordy as producer and manager, they debuted in 1958 with “Got a Job,” an answer song to the Silhouettes’ “Get a Job.” It was released on Robinson's 18th birthday.
1959 marked the Miracles’ breakthrough. Robinson and Claudette were married, and the Miracles had their first national chart entry with “Bad Girl.” The Miracles also added guitarist Marv Tarplin. At the time, Tarplin was playing guitar for the Primettes, a vocal group that included Diana Ross, who was a neighbor of Robinson's. He got them an audition at Motown but drafted Tarplin into the Miracles as part of the deal. The Primettes went on to fame and fortune as the Supremes, while Tarplin remained a close associate and frequent songwriting partner throughout Robinson’s life.
The Miracles' first hit, "Shop Around," reached Number Two and sold a million copies. The song had a rawer, bluesier feel than much of their later work. Even the notoriously hard-to-please Gordy proclaimed the song a masterpiece. A steady stream of Robinson-penned Miracles classics in a more polished style followed. They include “You Really Got a Hold On Me” (Number Eight pop, Number One R&B), “Ooo Baby Baby” (Number 16 pop, Number Four R&B), “The Tracks of My Tears” (Number 16 pop, Number Two R&B), and “I Second That Emotion” (Number four pop, Number One R&B).
Legend has it that audience members would break into tears when Robinson and the Miracles sang “The Tracks of My Tears.” Robinson’s satiny high tenor and the Miracles’ lush harmonies on “Ooo Baby Baby” caused crowds to swoon as well. In a more uptempo vein, they had success with “Mickey’s Monkey” (Number Eight pop, Number Three R&B) and the discotheque classic “Going to A Go-Go” (Number 11 pop, Number Two R&B).
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ success culminated in 1970 with “The Tears of a Clown,” their first Number One pop hit. Somewhat unusually, “The Tears of a Clown” was a three-year-old album track (from 1967’s Make It Happen) when a British Motown executive issued it in the U.K. It topped the British charts and then followed suit in the U.S. In total, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles scored 38 Top 40 hits on the pop and/or R&B charts from 1960 to 1972.
In every way, the Miracles was a family affair, and the other members were important to the success of the group. As writer Mark Vining noted, “Vocal interplay within a simple, concise song was a paramount attribute of the group.” As background singers, the Miracles were “unsurpassed when it comes to melting harmonies and spun-sugar vocals,” wrote journalist Vince Aletti.
Bobby Rogers was the Miracles’ best dancer, conceiving their stage routines until choreographer Cholly Atkins arrived at Motown. Ronnie White brought a sense of sartorial style to the group, and it was he who brought Stevie Wonder to Motown’s attention. Pete Moore kept them organized and disciplined. Claudette Rogers was the group’s accountant and secretary. “Within the Miracles, we each had a job,” she noted. In addition, Moore, White and guitarist Tarplin shared occasional songwriting credits with Robinson. Tarplin cowrote “The Tracks of My Tears,” while White cowrote “My Girl,” a Number One hit for the Temptations.
Throughout the Sixties, Robinson’s duties at Motown steadily grew beyond his work with the Miracles. From the beginning, he wrote for other Motown acts. Over time he was made a staff producer and vice-president. He moved to Los Angeles in 1972, following Gordy’s lead, while the Miracles remained in Detroit. Robinson told the group as far back as 1969 that he intended to leave the Miracles, as he wanted to devote more time to family life and start a solo career. But the unexpected Number One success of “The Tears of a Clown” in 1970 delayed his plans for a few years. He appeared with the Miracles in concert with for the last time in July 1972 and on record with the album Flying High Again.
Robinson’s departure was technically not the group’s first lineup change. After 1965, Claudette stopped touring with the Miracles, although she participated in recording sessions through 1972. The remaining Miracles – Pete Moore, Ronnie White and Bobby Rogers – recruited Billy Griffin as their new lead singer. He apprenticed with them on Robinson’s final tour with the group.
In July 1973, “Sweet Harmony,” by Smokey Robinson, and “Don’t Let It End (‘Til You Let It Begin),” by the Miracles, entered the charts within two weeks of each other. Both songs paid homage to the long association between Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, which ended exactly one year earlier, and each was the first hit the two entities had without the other.
In 1976, at the height of the disco era, the Miracles (sans Robinson) had a Number One pop hit with “Love Machine,” which hung on the charts for 28 weeks. Taken from their concept album City of Angels, it was “the most successful single in the 16-year chart history of the Miracles,” according to the Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits. It also turned out to be the Miracles’ last charting pop single. However, 1977’s “Spy for Brotherhood” cracked the R&B Top 40.
Excluding compilations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles released 15 albums on Tamla. After Robinson’s departure, the Miracles cut five albums for Motown and two more for Columbia. They disbanded at the end of the Seventies and pursued individual interests. Ronnie White went into real estate, Bobby Rogers launched an interior-design firm, and Pete Moore started a record label.
There was one memorable reunion, however. In 1983, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles came together for Motown’s 25th anniversary special.