Smokey Robinson may be one of the best-known Motown singers of all time, but this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? found that even the famous singer has some family secrets to uncover.
Robinson appeared on Sunday’s episode, delving into his mother’s family history and discovering the mystery of his grandfather’s disappearance.
WARNING: There are some Who Do You Think You Are? spoilers ahead about Smokey Robinson’s family history.
While the episode doesn’t air until 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, the genealogy blog DNAeXplained had an advanced review that included the details of Smokey Robinson’s mysterious family history. The episode explains his troubled family history, with parents who divorced when he was three and the death of his mother, Flossie Mae Smith, when he was just 10.
There was mystery even beyond that, including the story of his wayward grandfather. A trip to the Los Angeles Public Library uncovered that Smokey’s maternal grandfather, Benjamin J. Smith, was not listed as living with his family, even though his grandmother was still listed as married. As the DNAeXplained report added, Smokey then trekked to Memphis, Tennessee, where he learned that his grandfather had actually divorced his grandmother in 1914.
That led Smokey to learn that his grandfather was a so-called “player.” Benjamin Smith was married to a woman named Euzelia in 1900 but they were divorced by 1902 — but in between then, Smokey’s uncle Dewey was born to Smokey’s grandmother in 1901.
But after learning that his grandfather was something of a player, there was still another family mystery to tackle on Who Do You Think You Are? — where the surname Warr came from on his mother’s side. He found that the death certificate for his grandmother Ella listed Adam Warr as her father.
As DNAeXplained noted, that led Smokey to a very interesting story.
“Ella was born in 1889, in Fayette County, near Memphis, so Smokey has already gone back quite some time using her death certificate information. Once again, using the census, they found Adam Warr in 1870, living with his family. With a lot of digging, they discovered one document where Adam Warr gave a deposition, in his own words. That was an amazing discovery, actually, given the circumstances…and something we all hope for. Those are the only words from Adam’s mouth that Smokey will ever hear.”
As Smokey Robinson has explained in past interviews, his family had a big impact on his personal life and his music. In a 2009 interview with the Telegraph, Robinson said that his mother’s final words on the day that she died ended up forming the basis for his career.
“When Smokey was 10 and on his way to school, his mother called him to her bedside and told him: ‘I want you to always be a good boy.’ She died that afternoon from a cerebral hemorrhage and set in motion the recurring themes in Robinson’s music: women, devotional love, tragic loss.”
Smokey Robinson’s older sister moved into the family house after his mother’s death, the report added, leaving 11 children living in the same home — with three in each bed. Smokey’s music career started when he was 15 and formed the group The Matadors (which later became The Miracles).
Robinson would convince his friend, Berry Gordy Jr., to start the Motown label just four years later. Within 10 years of his mother’s death, Smokey wrote his first million-selling album, Shop Around, the Telegraph noted.
Those who want to learn more about Smokey Robinson and his family secrets can check out the official Who Do You Think You Are? page.
[Featured Image by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts]