DETROIT — As a vocalist, songwriter and choreographer, the Miracles’ Bobby Rogers embodied the eclectic Motown spirit from the company’s earliest days.
Rogers died at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday at his longtime suburban Detroit home after a lengthy illness, succumbing to complications from diabetes. He was 73.
Rogers, who had kept various incarnations of the Miracles going into the new century, was a well-decorated figure with the group: inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honored with a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, memorialized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Rogers was preceded in death by founding Miracle Ronnie White, who died in 1995.
The strapping singer was remembered by friends and family members as a warm, congenial figure who made instant connections with others.
“He had the sparkling personality that was loved by everyone," said the Miracles’ Claudette Robinson, a first cousin of Rogers. “People always commented on the tall one with the glasses. He was personable, approachable and he loved talking to the women, loved talking to the guys, loved to dance, loved to sing, loved to perform. That was the joy of his life."
That upbeat spirit is captured among the array of voices on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On," with Rogers heard early on uttering, “It’s just a groovy party, man, I can dig it."
“If people want to remember him, they should put that record on and listen to Bobby," said the Supremes’ Mary Wilson. “That’s who he was."
Wilson last saw him when she and the Miracles toured Australia in 2010.
“When he walked out on stage, he walked out with a zest, even though he had his walker," she recalled. “He walked out in time (to the music), and he was just great. He still loved what he did."
While he was best known as one of the Miracles’ five voices, Rogers was particularly proud of his songwriting contributions, including credits with Smokey Robinson on hits such as “The Way You Do the Things You Do" (the Temptations), “First I Look at the Purse" (the Contours) and the Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go."
“He loved to write with Smokey," said Claudette Robinson. “Bobby would often say how happy he was to be allowed to write with him. Smokey would say, ‘I’m not just allowing you — you’re a great writer.’"
“Another soldier in my life has fallen. Bobby Rogers was my brother and a really good friend," Robinson said Sunday in a statement. “... I am really going to miss him. I loved him very much."
Working and performing together was something of destiny for the two childhood friends: They were born just an hour apart on Feb. 19, 1940, in Detroit’s Herman Kiefer Hospital.
Rogers was among the handful of people privy to Motown’s rise from the ground up: The Miracles — then the Matadors — were discovered by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959, and became the first artist on the Tamla imprint.
The group had started as the Five Chimes, rehearsing doo-wop tunes in the basement of Claudette Rogers’ home, learning material from old 78-r.p.m. records.
With Rogers’ tenor joining Pete Moore, Ronnie White and Claudette Robinson in the harmonies around Robinson’s lead vocal, the Miracles’ “Shop Around" went on to become Motown’s first million-seller, and the first of 30 Miracles hits to make the Top 40.
Wilson knew Rogers from the Supremes’ formative years, when the teen group — then the Primettes — auditioned for the Miracles and began the path to Motown. They both attended Northeastern High School.
“He was like a celebrity there," she recalled.
Rogers’ biggest starring role came with “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me" in 1962, singing two-part harmony with Robinson.
“Bobby liked to call it his duet with Smokey," recalled Paul Barker, a friend of the group. “He’d tell you, ‘Hey, I sang lead on that!’"
Rogers’ role became more pronounced after the departure of Robinson in 1972, as he toured with Moore, White and a series of lead singers into the 1980s. Rogers and White revived the group in the early ’90s after a decade hiatus.
In more recent years, Rogers was the main engine for the Miracles, trademarking the name and nurturing the legacy as he toured North America and Europe under the group’s banner.
“He wanted that to be something he was remembered for: keeping the Miracles’ name alive," said Barker.
Rogers is survived by his wife, Joan Rogers, and children Bobbae Rogers, Gina Hughes, Kimberly Hughes and Robert Rogers III, along with his granddaughter, Brandi Williams, of the R&B group Blaque. Daughter Robin Yopp is deceased.