Smokey Robinson is of African-American and French descent.
Smokey Robinson was born William Robinson Jr. on February 19, 1940, in Detroit, Michigan, in the rough Brewster ghetto, a poor and generally dangerous neighborhood. Robinson's father, William Robinson, Sr., worked in a bowling alley; his mother, Flossie Mae Smith Bynum Ligon, was a homemaker. His parents divorced when he was three, and his mother died when he was ten, after which he was raised in a household containing many family members, including his sister Geraldine, her ten children and his father. The nickname "Smokey" was applied to him ironically because he was actually quite light skinned. Robinson was interested in singing as early as the age of six. Young Smokey grew up listening to his mother's records, including the works of B. B. King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Eckstine. These African-American artists, he commented in Rolling Stone, were "the first inspirational thing I had."