During the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, the disparity between the Anglo-American and African-American communities began to take a toll on the human consciences of the young Americans. The African-Americans wanted to tear down the wall of differences and become part of the mainstream of American life. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Record Company in Detroit, based his company on the idea of delivering music which would be wide appealing, non-threatening with maximum crossover into all cultures of America. In order to do so, he hired the most talented and gifted writers and producers along with exceptional singers and performers. The Temptations became one of the most versatile, entertaining male vocal groups in Motown.
The Temptations formed in 1961 by the merging of two Detroit groups, The Primes (Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams) and The Distants (Otis Williams, Elbridge Bryant, Melvin Franklin) under the name The Elgins, prior to changing their name to The Temptations. They signed onto Motown on its subsidiary label, Miracle. Only one of their songs, "Dream Come True" had any commercial success in 1962. In 1964, Elbridge Bryant attacked Paul Williams after a Christmas Review Show and left the group a short time thereafter.
This was the beginning of the many changes in personnel that plagued the group. Luckily, this first change brought success on board when David Ruffin signed on. David Ruffin brought an extraordinary amount of charisma to the group along with a deep, passionate style of singing, which contrasted perfectly with the high, nearly falsetto voice of Eddie Kendricks.
His voice was so compelling that artists such as Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones studied it and eventually made a cover of the 1966 Temptations single "Aint to Proud to Beg." Along with the recruitment of David Ruffin, Smokey Robinson became the writer and producer behind many of their early hits. The greatest gift that Smokey gave the group was the song "My Girl," in 1965. This single made number 1 on both the U.S. R&B and Pop charts.
The group had an incredibly appealing stage act, as the five very good looking men sang and danced in rhythm, their movements in almost perfect synchronization.
During the years of 1966-1968, the Temptations continue to remain on the top ten charts with songs such as "Aint to Proud to Beg"(1966, #1 R&B, #13 Pop), "Beauty's Only Skin Deep"(1966, #1 R&B, #3 Pop), "You're My Everything"(1967, #3 R&B, #6 Pop), and "I Wish it Would Rain"(1968, #1 R&B, #4 Pop). David Ruffin, who was the main lead for most of these hits became restless for a group name change to include his name, just as The Supremes had changed to Diana Ross and The Supremes. That never happened and Ruffin was eventually fired for not appearing at a 1968 live performance, although he would later occasionally rejoin the group.
Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards, whose voice led the group to acquire a new psychedelic sound with the help of their new writer, Norman Whitfield. In 1968, The Temptations reached new ground with their single, "Cloud Nine," which introduced a new level of social consciousness with psychedelic guitar arrangements. Their sound was highly influenced by the rock-soul-psychedelic fusion of Sly and the Family Stone. Despite the groups adventure with their new sound, they never left their romantic sound as their 1971 hit, "Just My Imagination" reflects.
The string of good fortune, which laced the career of The Temptations, would soon unravel as members of the original formation begin to pass on. Paul Williams left the Temptations in 1973 due to poor health and alcoholism. That same year, at the age of 34, he was found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Eddie Kendricks left the group in 1973 as well to pursue a solo career. Since then, he has made several reappearances with the group but eventually fell victim to lung cancer and died at the age of 52, in 1992.
Four replacements followed him including Ricky Owens, Damon Harris, Glenn Leonard, and Ron Tyson. David Ruffin died at the age of 50 in 1991, after overdosing on cocaine. There left only Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin form the original mid-60s quintet to continue to work as The Temptations until Melvin Franklin passed away after suffering a brain seizure.
Today, Otis Williams is the only survivor of the original members of the Temptations. He continues to tour with four new members including Ron Tyson, Barrington Henderson, Terry Weeks, Harry McGillberry. The Temptations continue to turn out good music as demonstrated by the success of their 1998 album, Phoenix Rising and their 2000 album Ear-Resistable.
Page author: L.C.