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The Temptations

Related subjects Performers and composers

The Temptations
The Temptations in 2007. From left to right, Joe Herndon, Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Otis Williams, Bruce Williamson
The Temptations in 2007. From left to right, Joe Herndon, Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Otis Williams, Bruce Williamson
Background information
Also known as Otis Williams and the Siberians, The Primes, The Distants, Otis Williams & the Distants, The Elgins, The Pirates
Origin Detroit, Michigan, United States
Genre(s) R&B
Years active 1960 – present
Label(s) Warwick, Gordy, Motown, Atlantic, New Door/Universal
Associated acts The Supremes
Website www.otiswilliams.net
Otis Williams
Terry Weeks
Joe Herndon
Ron Tyson
Bruce Williamson
Former members
Elbridge "Al" Bryant
Melvin Franklin
Eddie Kendricks
Paul Williams
David Ruffin
Dennis Edwards
Ricky Owens
Damon Harris
Glenn Leonard
Louis Price
Ali-Ollie Woodson
Theo Peoples
Ray Davis
Harry McGilberry
Barrington "Bo" Henderson
Richard Street
G.C. Cameron

The Temptations (abbreviated as "The Temps" or "The Tempts") are a Grammy-winning vocal group that achieved fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown Records. The group's repertoire has included, at various times during its five-decade career, R&B, doo-wop, funk, disco, soul, and adult contemporary music.

Formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1960 as The Elgins, the Temptations have always featured at least five African American male vocalists/dancers. The group, known for its recognizable choreography, distinct harmonies, and onstage suits, has been said to be as influential to soul as the Beatles are to rock. Having sold an estimated 22 million albums by 1982, The Temptations are one of the most successful groups in music history and were the definitive male vocal group of the 1960s. In addition, they have the second-longest tenure on Motown (behind Stevie Wonder), as they were with the label for a total of 40 years: 16 years from 1961 to 1977, and 24 more from 1980 to 2004 (from 1977 to 1980, they were signed to Atlantic Records). As of 2007, the Temptations continue to perform and record for Universal Records with only one original member, founder Otis Williams, in its lineup.

The original group included members of two local Detroit vocal groups: The Distants, which featured second tenor/ baritone Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge "Al" Bryant and bass Melvin Franklin; and first tenor/ falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis) from The Primes. Among the most notable future Temptations were lead singers David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards (both of whom became successful Motown solo artists after leaving the group), Richard Street (another former Distant), Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, and G.C. Cameron. Like its sister female group, the Supremes, the Temptations' lineup has changed frequently over the years.

Over the course of their career, the Temptations have released four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and 14 Billboard R&B number-one singles. Their material has earned them three Grammy Awards, while two more awards were conferred upon the songwriters and producers who crafted their 1972 hit " Papa Was a Rollin' Stone".


The Primes

Childhood friends Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Kel Osbourne, and Wiley Waller formed a doo-wop group called the Cavaliers in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955. Reduced to a trio after Waller left the group in 1957, Kendricks, Williams, and Osbourne left Birmingham in order to break into the music business. After first moving to Cleveland, Ohio, they settled in Detroit. The Primes, as the doo-wop trio was now called, were well-known around Detroit for their meticulous performances. Group manager Milton Jenkins even created a sister group for the Primes called the Primettes, recruiting Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diane (later Diana) Ross, and Betty McGlown for the spin-off act. Eddie Kendricks was already becoming a local "Matinee Idol", and Paul Williams was known for his powerful baritone voice, having an adult style even as a teenager.

The Distants

Otis Williams had moved from his native Texarkana, Texas to Detroit as a young boy, to live with his mother. By 1958, he was the leader of Otis Williams & the Siberians, a doo-wop group that included Williams, his friend Elbridge "Al" Bryant, James "Pee-Wee" Crawford, Vernard Plain, and Arthur Walton. This quintet recorded the single "Pecos Kid" backed with "All of My Life" for a label run by local radio deejay Senator Bristol Bryant. The single never took off outside the local Detroit market, and the Siberians changed their name to The El Domingoes shortly afterward.

At this time, more changes took place. Montgomery, Alabama native Melvin Franklin replaced Arthur Walton as the bass singer and Franklin's cousin, Detroit-born Richard Street, replaced Vernard Plain as lead singer. The group soon signed with Northern Records, run by Johnnie Mae Matthews, who renamed the group The Distants. The Distants recorded two singles for Northern, "Come On" (1959, featuring additional background vocals by the Andantes), and "Alright" (1960). Between these two releases, Albert "Mooch" Harrell replaced Pee-Wee Crawford. "Come On" was a local hit for the Distants, and the Warwick label picked the record up for national distribution. After the release of "Alright", Matthews appointed Williams the group leader, and the group was renamed Otis Williams & the Distants. Though Otis Williams had a pleasant, but unremarkable, lead voice, he organized the group and so became the defacto leader, as he would later with the Temptations.

Influences and colleagues

The Primes and the Distants were but two of dozens of local male vocal acts, the most famous of which was the Miracles, led by Smokey Robinson. The Miracles were known for their stage show, and their pop success was something for which both groups strived. Other important inspirations included the Cadillacs, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, the Drifters, and the Isley Brothers.

The various members of the Primes and the Distants who would later become part of the Temptations met a number of their later Motown bandmates, labelmates, and producers during the early part of their careers. Melvin Franklin had been a member of the recording group the Voice Masters, which also included among its ranks Lamont Dozier and David Ruffin (his cousin), and another cousin was none other than Jackie Wilson. The musicians at the recording session for the Distants' "Come On" included James Jamerson on bass; the Andantes on background vocals; and Norman Whitfield on tambourine.

Forming the Temptations

Although "Come On" was a local success in the Detroit area, the Distants never saw much of their share from the record sales, and the second single was not as successful. After receiving an offer from Berry Gordy of Motown Records, the group got out of its contract with Matthews and left Northern. At the same time, it lost Mooch Harrell, Richard Street, and the rights to use its name. Street would front a new group of Distants for the local Thelma label during the early 1960s.

The Distants were acquainted with the Primes, as both groups made the same rounds to local record hops, talent shows, and concerts. The two groups were friendly rivals, with the Primes being the more polished and stronger vocal performers. The Primes disbanded in 1960 when Kel Osbourne moved to California, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams returned to Alabama. While in Detroit visiting relatives, Kendricks called Otis Williams who, desperately needing two more members for an audition for Gordy, offered Kendricks a lead singer place in the Distants. Kendricks agreed, with one condition -- that he could bring Paul Williams with him. Otis Williams happily agreed, and Kendricks and Paul Williams moved back to Detroit to join the new group.

The new lineup of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Elbridge "Al" Bryant, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams took on the name The Elgins and auditioned for Motown in March 1961. Gordy agreed to sign the group to his Miracle Records imprint, as he was already familiar with Kendricks and Williams from background singing sessions they had done before Gordy had formalized Motown, but he discovered just before signing that there was already a singing group called the Elgins. The quintet quickly began tossing about ideas for a new name on the steps of Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters and studio. On a suggestion from Miracle Records employee Billy Mitchell and Otis Williams, The Temptations became the group's new moniker. The "Elgins" name would re-surface at Motown in 1965, when Gordy renamed a quartet called The Downbeats as The Elgins.

The Temptations released two singles on Miracle, "Oh Mother of Mine" and " Check Yourself" featuring Paul Williams' powerful lead, before it was closed and merged with the Gordy label (to avoid confusion with the Miracles singing group). All seven of the Temptations' singles released between 1961 and 1963 failed to make it onto the U.S. Hot 100 pop singles charts; the 1962 single " Dream Come True" (which featured Eddie Kendricks' lead) made it to number 22 on the R&B chart. During that time the group became known as one of the most talented and versatile groups in the country. Paul Williams and Kendricks split most of the leads during this period, with Kendricks becoming the standard for all first tenor/falsetto singers, and Williams as an unsurpassed performer. Bryant, Otis Williams, and Franklin occasionally sang lead but the signature sound, both as leads and the core of the famous harmony was the Kendricks/Williams duo.

Many songwriter and producer teams had been trying to craft a hit for the Temptations, including Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Clarence Paul, and Norman Whitfield. They tried to take the group in several different directions, all in order to find the perfect sound that would put them not only on the U.S. charts (both Pop & R&B), but in the Top 20 as well. One song “Isn’t She Pretty” had all five members signing lead (and mainly showcased the lead vocals of ‘Al’ Bryant); it was a precursor to the multi-lead songs the group would record in the late 60's. There was even the idea of having the Tempts’ change their name to “The Pirates” (they would record two songs under this name, "Mind Over Matter" and "I'll Love You Till I Die") but to no avail. Gordy had in fact written the song " Do You Love Me" for the Temptations in 1961, but when he was unable to get a hold of the group, he recorded the song with the Contours instead. Miracles lead singer/songwriter/producer Smokey Robinson produced his first Temptations single, the Paul Williams-led " I Want a Love I Can See", in 1963, and proved to have the best rapport with the group. Despite their best efforts, however, the group was still unsuccessful in landing on the record label's desired spot on any of the U.S. singles charts. The other acts at Motown would soon gave them the nickname "The Hitless Temptations".

Elbridge Bryant, who preferred his day job as a milkman to performing, soon became restless and uncooperative. After a performance at the 1963 Motown company Christmas party, Bryant was fired from the group. His replacement was Meridian, Mississippi native David Ruffin, younger brother of Motown artist Jimmy Ruffin. Though both Ruffin brothers were considered, David was given an edge over Jimmy thanks to his performance skills, which David displayed when he joined the Temptations on-stage during a local Detroit performance earlier that year.

The "Classic Five" era

In January 1964, Smokey Robinson and Miracles bandmate Bobby Rogers co-wrote and produced " The Way You Do the Things You Do" with Eddie Kendricks on lead. The single became the Temptations' first Top 20 hit that April. "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and several pre-David Ruffin singles were compiled onto the group's first album, Meet The Temptations, released in 1964. While traveling as part of Motown's Motortown Revue later that year Robinson and another fellow Miracle, Ronnie White, wrote a song for the emotive Ruffin to sing lead on, which the group recorded in the fall of 1964. Released as a single on December 24, 1964, " My Girl", became the Temptations' first number-one pop hit in March 1965, and is their signature song to this day.

After the success of "My Girl", Ruffin sang lead on the next three Temptations singles: " It's Growing", " Since I Lost My Baby" and " My Baby", all of which made it to the Top 20 in 1965. The b-side to "My Baby", " Don’t Look Back", featured a stirring lead from Paul Williams, and was a sleeper hit on the R&B charts and a standard for vocal groups playlists.

Norman Whitfield had requested the opportunity to write for the group. In 1966, he was given the opportunity- should Robinson's " Get Ready" fail to chart in the Top 20, the next song would be his. "Get Ready" missed the mark, and Whitfield's " Ain't Too Proud to Beg" was released. The song did well, and Whitfield was made the group's main producer. He began pushing the group away from Robinson's ballad-based production towards a harder-edged and brass-heavy soul sound reminiscent of the work of James Brown.

Nearly all of the pre-1968 Whitfield-produced Temptations singles featured David Ruffin on lead vocals, including the R&B number-one/pop Top 10 hits " Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" and " (I Know) I'm Losing You". Other important singles from this period included the incredibly popular, "You're My Everything", on which Kendricks and Ruffin share lead vocals, and "All I Need", produced by Whitfield's protégé Frank Wilson.

Whitfield's writing partners during this period included Roger Penzabene, Temptations road show manager and guitarist Cornelius Grant, and Edward Holland, Jr.. After Eddie Holland left Motown with the rest of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting/production team in 1967, Barrett Strong (who sang Motown's very first hit, 1960's " Money (That's What I Want)") began working with Whitfield and Penzabene on Temptations material. Two of Whitfield/Strong/Penzabene's collaborations, " I Wish It Would Rain" and " I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)", became hits in 1968. Strong became Whitfield's sole collaborator after Penzabene's suicide in December 1967.

Exit David Ruffin, Enter Dennis Edwards

Between 1964 and 1968, the Temptations went from unknown hopefuls to international stars. The group appeared frequently on television shows such as American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show, and catered to middle America with a pop standards album ( The Temptations in a Mellow Mood, 1967) and performances at the Copacabana in New York City and other such supper clubs. Outside of music, the Temptations were made honorary members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Initially laid back and even-keeled, by 1967 David Ruffin felt that he was almost single-handedly responsible for the group's success. He demanded special treatment, riding to and from gigs in a private mink-lined limousine with his then-girlfriend, singer Tammi Terrell (known for her duets with Marvin Gaye), instead of in the group limousine the other four Temptations used. Ruffin missed a number of rehearsals, concerts, and group meetings; and began regularly using cocaine. After seeing how Motown had made Diana Ross the focus of the Supremes by renaming the group Diana Ross & the Supremes, Ruffin demanded that his group be renamed, as well -- to David Ruffin & the Temptations. Additionally, Ruffin was demanding an accounting of the Temptations' earnings, which caused friction between him and Berry Gordy.

There was general agreement among the rest of group that Ruffin needed to be replaced. Otis Williams insists that Ruffin was given fair warning that if he did not change his attitude he would be fired. When Ruffin missed a June 1968 engagement at a Cleveland supper club in order to attend a show by his new girlfriend ( Dean Martin's daughter Gail), it was decided that he had crossed the line. The other four Temptations drew up legal documentation firing Ruffin from the group, and Dennis Edwards, formerly of the Contours, was hired to replace him. Edwards and Ruffin were good friends, and Ruffin at first went along with the changing of the guard. After a short time, however, Ruffin began turning up at Temptations shows, jumping onstage during performances of the songs he once sang lead on and stealing the spotlight. The audiences were delighted, but the Temptations and Motown were frustrated and embarrassed. Extra security guards were hired to prevent Ruffin from attending other Temptations' performances. Ruffin sued Motown in October 1968, seeking a release from the label, and Motown settled by offering Ruffin a solo recording deal.

Edwards' first album with the Temptations was Live at the Copa, a live album recorded at the Copacabana nightclub. Later that year, Berry Gordy commissioned the first of a number of collaborations for the Temptations with Diana Ross & the Supremes. The results included a joint tour, two studio albums ( Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, which featured the number-two hit single " I'm Gonna Make You Love Me", and Together), and two NBC television specials, TCB (aired December 9, 1968) and G.I.T. on Broadway (aired November 12, 1969). The tracks for Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations included Dennis Edwards' first studio recordings with the Temptations.

Psychedelic soul

Dennis Edwards' addition to the Temptations coincided with producer Norman Whitfield's adoption of a new sound for the group. In the fall of 1968, Whitfield began producing psychedelic-based material for the Temptations, derived primarily from the sound of funk band Sly & the Family Stone. This new style, which debuted with the Top 10 hit single " Cloud Nine" in October 1968, was a marked departure from the David Ruffin-era ballads. The instrumentation was funkier, the beat was hard-driving, and all five Temptations traded lead vocals, similar to Sly & the Family Stone. "Cloud Nine", the centerpiece of the group's landmark Cloud Nine LP, was a Top 10 hit and won Motown its first Grammy Award, for Best R&B Vocal Group Performance of 1969.

The blending of the Motown sound and psychedelic rock sound resulted in a new subgenre of music called " psychedelic soul", also evident in the work of Diana Ross and the Supremes (" Reflections", " Love Child"), Marvin Gaye's version of " I Heard It Through the Grapevine", and the music of the Fifth Dimension, The Undisputed Truth and the Friends of Distinction. More Temptations psychedelic soul singles would follow in 1969 and 1970, among them " Runaway Child, Running Wild" (a number-one R&B hit), " I Can't Get Next to You" (a number-one pop hit), " Psychedelic Shack", " Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)". The formula began to wear thin when "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)", went to #33 Pop in the Fall of 1970.

Exit Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, Enter Richard Street and Damon Harris

During the late-1960s, Paul Williams' physical and mental health began to decline sharply. Williams suffered from both depression and sickle-cell disease, and also developed alcoholism, all of which made it hard for him to continue performing. Oxygen tanks were kept in the wings of performance venue stages for Williams, and the other four Temptations made valiant efforts to raid and drain his alcohol stashes. By 1969, former Distant Richard Street, now lead singer of Motown act the Monitors, was touring with the group as a backup replacement for Williams. For most shows, Street would sing Williams' parts (save for his solo numbers) from offstage behind a curtain, while Williams danced and lip-synched onstage. At other shows, and during most of the second half of 1970, Street took Williams' place onstage.

As Paul Williams' health failed, Eddie Kendricks became detached from the group. He regularly had fights with Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin over the group's leadership. In addition, Kendricks was uncomfortable with the psychedelic soul material the group was now performing, preferring the ballad material from the earlier days. Kendricks rekindled his friendship with David Ruffin, who persuaded him to quit the Temptations and go solo. After another confrontation between himself, Otis Williams, and Franklin during a November 1970 Copacabana engagement, Kendricks walked out in-between shows and did not return. Both Franklin and Otis Williams agreed at this time that Kendricks would be leaving the group.

Before Kendricks officially left the Temptations, he and Paul Williams recorded the lead vocals for " Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)", a lush, wistful ballad that became Kendricks' Temptations swan song. Released as a single in January 1971, "Just My Imagination" began steadily climbing the U.S. pop singles chart. By the time "Just My Imagination" hit number-one in March, Kendricks had negotiated his release from the group and signed a solo deal with Motown's Tamla imprint.

Kendricks' original replacement was Ricky Owens, from the Los Angeles-based vocal group the Vibrations. However, Owens gave poorly-received performances during the few shows he performed with the group, and he was dropped after only a few weeks. During most of the spring of 1971, the Temptations remained a quartet, and re-recorded the single "It's Summer" without a fifth member. In April, Paul Williams quit the Temptations, after a medical declaration that he was unable to continue performing. Richard Street officially took his place, while Williams remained on the group's payroll as an advisor and choreographer. After Williams had recovered enough to perform again, Motown made plans for a Paul Williams solo career, but he died at age 34 in Detroit on August 17, 1973. Williams' death was ruled a suicide.

The Temptations in the early 1970s

By May, The Temptations had found a permanent replacement first tenor in twenty-year-old Baltimore native Damon Harris. Otis Williams, Edwards, Franklin, Street, and Harris continued recording and performing, and Norman Whitfield continued producing hits for them. Among these were Top 40 hits such as " Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" (1971), a message from the Temptations to David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and "Take a Look Around" (1972).

The fall of 1972 saw the release of Whitfield's magnum opus, " Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". Originally a three-minute record written and produced for the Undisputed Truth, Whitfield took the sombre tune and created a sprawling, dramatic eleven and ¾-minute version for the Temptations. An edited seven-minute version was released as a single in September 1972, hitting number-one on the pop charts and number-five on the R&B charts. In 1973, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" won the Temptations their second Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Group. Whitfield and arranger/conductor Paul Riser won the award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance with the instrumental version of "Papa" on the single's b-side, and Whitfield and Barrett Strong won the songwriters' Grammy for Best R&B Song.

After "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", Whitfield stopped working with Barrett Strong, and began writing the Temptations' material on his own. The success of "Papa" led Whitfield to create more elongated, operatic pieces, including the Top 10 hit " Masterpiece" (1973) and several of the tracks on the resulting Masterpiece album. Tensions developed between Whitfield and the group, who found Whitfield arrogant and difficult to work with. The group cited his habitual tardiness, his emphasis of the instrumental tracks over the vocals on many of his productions, and the declining singles and albums sales as other sources of conflict. Otis Williams complained about Whitfield's actions and the Temptations' stagnant sales to Berry Gordy, who intervened and reassigned them to Jeffrey Bowen, co-producer of the 1967 In a Mellow Mood album.

The final Norman Whitfield-produced Temptations album, 1990, was released in late 1973, and included the Top 30 single "Let Your Hair Down". Whitfield left Motown shortly afterwards, and in 1975 established Whitfield Records, taking with him the Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch, and Rose Royce, who performed the instrumental track for "Let Your Hair Down".

Dry spell

Bowen's first LP with the Temptations was January 1975's A Song for You, which included a cover of the titular Leon Russell tune (popularized with soul audiences by Donny Hathaway), along with the pop Top 40/R&B number-one hits "Happy People" (featuring the Commodores as the instrumentalists) and "Shakey Ground" (featuring instrumentation by Parliament-Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel and Billy Bass Nelson), and "Glasshouse", the group's final Top 40 Pop hit. Damon Harris was fired from the group during the recording of A Song for You, as his behaviour and work ethic were deemed unprofessional. His replacement was Washington, D.C. native Glenn Leonard, formerly of the Unifics.

A number of producers, including Bowen, Brian Holland, James Carmichael, and even the Temptations themselves tried producing hits for the next three LPs, House Party (November 1975), Wings of Love ( March 1976), and The Temptations Do the Temptations (August 1976). None of these recordings were as commercially successful as A Song for You, and none of their associated singles entered the Billboard charts.

As time progressed, Bowen pushed Dennis Edwards further to the front. This was evident in on Wings of Love, which features Edwards' voice more prominently than the other Temptations' backing vocals. Otis Williams felt that this was hurting the group; additionally, he accused Motown of inattention, and cited this as the reason for the group's declining sales and popularity. After The Temptations Do the Temptations was recorded in 1976, Edwards was fired from the group, and with new lead Louis Price on board, they left Motown for Atlantic Records.

Success continued to elude the group at Atlantic, however. Their releases on Atlantic -- Hear to Tempt You (1977), Bare Back (1978), and their associated singles -- failed to perform better than their last handful of Motown singles, and in 1979, Atlantic released the group from its contract. Shortly afterwards, the Temptations met with Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, and the group re-signed with Motown in 1980.

Return to Motown and Reunion

Upon the return to Motown, Louis Price departed from the group and joined the Drifters. Dennis Edwards, who had become a father for the second time with his daughter Issa in 1978 to Pointer Sisters member Ruth Pointer, and had been inactive for the previous three years despite remaining with Motown as a solo act, returned to the lineup. Berry Gordy co-wrote and produced the Temptations' first single under the new contract, "Power", from the album of the same name. "Power" missed the Billboard Hot 100 Top 40, but hit number 11 on the R&B charts. Two years of underperforming singles and albums followed, including an eponymous album with Philadelphia-based producer Thom Bell, until Motown began planning a Temptations reunion tour in 1982.

Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin agreed to rejoin the group for the Reunion album and tour. Melvin Franklin's nephew, Motown funk star Rick James (who had previously used the Temptations as backup vocalists on his 1981 hit " Super Freak"), wrote, produced, and guested on the Reunion album's lead single, "Standing on the Top", which featured Ruffin, Kendricks, and Edwards on lead. The single went to number-six on the R&B charts. While the ensuing Reunion tour with all seven Temptations (Ruffin, Kendricks, Otis Williams, Franklin, Edwards, Richard Street, and Glenn Leonard) was financially successful, it ended up being a stressful venture: Kendricks' voice had weakened after decades of chain smoking, and Ruffin, still addicted to drugs, missed a number of the performances. At the conclusion of the Reunion tour, Ruffin and Kendricks were fired, and they began touring and performing together as a duo.

One more album, Surface Thrills, was released in 1983. It featured a sharp departure in the group's sound by incorporating elements of then-current rock. Following its release, Glenn Leonard left and was replaced by Ron Tyson, who was with the Philadelphia groups the Ethics and Love Committee. Tyson had been a songwriter at Atlantic during the Temptations' time there, and co-wrote several songs on the album Hear to Tempt You.

From the 1980s to the 1990s

By this time, the Temptations' releases were no longer performing well on the pop charts, though they sometimes made the R&B Top 20. "Love on My Mind Tonight", a single from Surface Thrills, made it to number 17. "Sail Away", produced by a returning Norman Whitfield and featuring Ron Tyson's first lead vocal, peaked at number 13.

Dennis Edwards was again fired in 1984, this time for missing rehearsals, or showing up hungover. He attempted a second solo career, scoring a hit with the 1984 single "Don't Look Any Further", a duet with Siedah Garrett. His place in the Tempations was taken by Ali-Ollie Woodson, a Detroit native who had been a potential candidate to replace Edwards back in 1977. The album Back to Basics was released; it was the first album featuring Ron Tyson, and featured one track with Woodson, "Stop the World Right Here (I Wanna Get Off)". Woodson's first lead on a single was 1984's "Treat Her Like a Lady", co-written by himself and Otis Williams, and co-produced by former Earth, Wind and Fire members Al McKay and Ralph Johnson. The single became their biggest success on R&B radio in some time, reaching number-two on the R&B charts, and just missing the Pop Top 40. The group experienced similar success the following year with the single "Lady Soul", another Top 5 R&B smash.

On July 13th 1985, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin would achieve "world comeback" recognition for their performances with pop/rock superstars Daryl Hall and John Oates ( Hall & Oates) in a performance given at the "Live Aid" concert in Philadelphia televised world wide. The segment with Kendricks and Ruffin included a Medley of "Get ready/The Way You Do the Things You Do/My Girl". The combination of Hall, Oates, Ruffin and Kendricks went on to perform the resurrected Hall and Oates hit (made popular by the English artist Paul Young), " Everytime You Go Away". This was the exact performance the singing quartet had just recorded live in a sold out performance for the "reopening" of the historic Apollo Theatre. The medley released on Live at the Apollo for RCA, became a top 20 hit on the pop charts.

Ollie Woodson remained with the Temptations until 1987, when he was fired and replaced by an again-returning Dennis Edwards. The group recorded one album during Edwards' third tenure, Together Again, released in late 1987. The following year, Otis Williams published his autobiography, Temptations, co-written with Patricia Romanowski, chronicling the careers of the group from the Primes/Distants days to the present, and focusing on the lives of Williams and Melvin Franklin. An updated version of the book was published in 2002.

Edwards was fired for the third and final time in late 1989, with Woodson re-joining the lineup. Also that year, the Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honoring Edwards, Franklin, Otis Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks (now performing as "Eddie Kendrick"), and, posthumously, Paul Williams. Most of the Temptations, present and former, showed no ill feelings towards each other, although Otis Williams reported that Kendricks would not speak to him during the ceremony. The Temptations ended their induction with Paul Williams' signature song, "Don't Look Back", dedicated to his memory.

After reuniting at the induction ceremony, Edwards, Ruffin, and Kendrick made plans to tour and record as "Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards, Former Leads of The Temptations". The tour was carried out, much to the chagrin of Otis Williams and Motown, but production on an album was terminated when Ruffin, age 50, died on June 1, 1991 in Philadelphia after a drug overdose. Kendrick was diagnosed with lung cancer but continued to perform; he died on October 5, 1992 at the age of 52, in his native Birmingham.

The Temptations in the 1990s

From the 1990s on, the Temptations' lineup began to change more frequently than before. Richard Street missed a performance in 1992 after undergoing emergency surgery to remove kidney stones. Otis Williams was not aware of Street's surgery, and called him, angry about Street's absence. Street felt Williams was unsympathetic, and as a result, he left the group in 1993 after twenty-two years. His replacement was St. Louis native Theo Peoples.

Two years later, Melvin Franklin was forced to stop performing because of failing health. He died on February 23, 1995 at the age of 52, after suffering a brain seizure. Ray Davis, from Parliament-Funkadelic, came on as new bass singer, and the group recorded the pop standards album For Lovers Only, which contained two tracks led by Melvin Franklin. Davis left shortly after completing the album, due to a lung cancer diagnosis. The group continued as a quartet for a short time, before recruiting bass Harry McGilberry, a former member of the Futures. For Lovers Only would also be the last for lead Ali-Ollie Woodson; he was released from the group in 1996 due to health problems, having suffered two battles with throat cancer. He was replaced by his fill-in from his first health concern, new member Terry Weeks.

The new Temptations lineup, consisting of Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Theo Peoples, and newcomers Harry McGilberry and Terry Weeks, debuted at the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXII, which celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Motown. In 1998, The Temptations released Phoenix Rising, their first million-selling album in over twenty years. The album was anchored by the Theo Peoples-led single "Stay", a number-one hit on the adult contemporary charts that featured a sample from "My Girl". During the recording of Phoenix Rising, however, Theo Peoples departed, and was replaced by Barrington "Bo" Henderson. The completed album features both Henderson and Peoples (who later joined the Four Tops) on different tracks.

The Temptations mini-series

1998 also saw the debut of The Temptations, a four-hour television miniseries based on Otis Williams' Temptations autobiography. It was broadcast in two parts on NBC on November 1 and November 2, 1998. The miniseries was a ratings success and won an Emmy award for Best Direction; it was subsequently rerun on the VH-1 cable television network and released to VHS and DVD.

Otis Williams' former wife Josephine, Melvin Franklin's mother Rose Franklin, and David Ruffin's family, filed a joint lawsuit against Williams, Motown, de Passe Entertainment, Hallmark Entertainment, and NBC for a number of charges, including defamation of character. The judges ruled in favour of the defendants, and the ruling was upheld when the plaintiffs appealed in 2001. Williams later claimed that, although his book was used as the source material for the film, he did not have a great deal of control over how the material was presented.

From 2000 to the present day

The Temptations on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall, November 2005. Pictured L-R: Joe Herndon, Otis Williams, G.C. Cameron, Terry Weeks, Ron Tyson
The Temptations on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall, November 2005. Pictured L-R: Joe Herndon, Otis Williams, G.C. Cameron, Terry Weeks, Ron Tyson

The Temptations were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2001, their 2000 album Ear-Resistible won the group its third Grammy, this one for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Three classic Temptations songs, "My Girl", "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Bo Henderson was fired from the group in 2003, prompting a wrongful termination lawsuit. His replacement was former Spinners lead G.C. Cameron. The lineup of Cameron, Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Harry McGilberry, and Terry Weeks recorded for a short time before Harry McGilberry was dismissed; his replacement was former Spaniels bass Joe Herndon. McGilberry died on April 3, 2006, at age 56.

The group's final Motown album, Legacy, was released in 2004. Later that year, the Temptations asked to be released from their Motown contract, and moved to another Universal Motown Records Group label, New Door Records. Their sole album with this lineup, Reflections, was released on January 31, 2006, and contains covers of several popular Motown songs, including Diana Ross & the Supremes' " Reflections", the Miracles' " Ooo Baby Baby", Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's " Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing", and the Jackson 5's " I'll Be There". The Temptations were nominated for the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, for their version of Gaye's " How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" from Reflections.

G.C. Cameron left the group in June 2007 to focus on his solo career. He was replaced by new member Bruce Williamson. The new lineup recorded another album of soul covers, Back to Front , released in October 2007. Later on that year, the group performed with the vocal group Human Nature at Hitsville USA performing "The Way You Do The Things You Do".

Splinter groups

Several former Temptations continue to perform outside of the group in spin-off or offshoot acts.

The most well known splinter was "Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards: Former Leads of the Temptations", which featured the three former Temptations and three other members (David Sea, who'd been a consideration to replace Edwards in 1984, Nate Evans, a former member of The Impressions, and a female vocalist). Following David Ruffin's death, Dennis Edwards and Eddie Kendrick began touring as "The Temptations", still with David Sea and Nate Evans, and bringing in another former Temptation, Damon Harris. The group had different sixth vocalists at different times, including Charles Blackmon, from The Choice Four, and Curtis Taylor. Their use of the Temptations name prompted a legal battle with Otis Williams.

Following Kendrick's death, the group splintered: Dennis formed "Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Review", Damon formed "Damon Harris and the Temptations Review" (featuring future Temptation Joe Herndon), David Sea went on to a solo career, and Evans and Taylor formed a Temptations tribute band. Edwards' group has appeared on several PBS music specials. The lineup in 1993 was Edwards, Mike Patillo (bass), Bernard Gibson (tenor), a fourth male member, and a female member. The female member was replaced by the returning David Sea in 1999, and the remaining male member by falsetto Chris Arnold in the early 2000s. Bernard Gibson was fired in 2006, and replaced by another former Temptation, Ali-Ollie Woodson. Woodson previously fronted an act called Ali-Ollie Woodson & the Emperors of Soul-- Emperors of Soul being the name of the 1994 Temptations boxed set. Woodson left the group in 2008 (joining a Broadway review of The Greatest Love Story Ever Told), and was replaced by Paul Williams, Jr., son of original Temptation Paul Williams.

Damon Harris split from his group in the late 1990s; the other four members then joined with another former Temptation, Glenn Leonard, to become "Glenn Leonard and the Temptations Experience." Joe Herndon left this group to join the Temptations His spot was filled by former Temptations bass Ray Davis, and, following Davis' death on July 5, 2005, Harry McGilberry, another former Temptations bass (McGilberry died on April 3, 2006). Damon Harris would form a new group later, billed as "Damon Harris and the Temptations Tribute."

Richard Street also leads a group, billed as "Richard Street" or "Richard Street's Temptations". Street is in the process of writing a book regarding his time with The Temptations entitled Ball of Confusion. If it is published, it will be the second autobiography regarding the group. In 1992, "Ruffin & Kendricks" roadie, Tony Turner, also wrote a book, assisted by Barbara Aria, contrasting Otis Williams' account of the group's glory days, entitled Deliver Us From Temptation.

Leonard, Woodson, and Henderson have toured as "Legendary Lead Singers of the Temptations" and "The Temptations Reunion Show" since 2004. This prompted a lawsuit by Otis Williams filed in October 2007, citing not just the three performers but their managers and every venue that hosted them. Williams' complaint deals with their use of "The Temptations", as well as claims that the act accepted considerably lower fees than The Temptations, hurting the group's reputation as well as the ability to work. Also cited is advertising by the venues claimed to be misleading by billing Leonard, Woodson, and Henderson's group as "The Temptations".

Musical style

The Temptations' songs depended upon the individual members' interaction as a group; unlike many other R&B groups, each member of the Temptations was a lead singer of some capacity. Although the group always had an appointed main lead singer who dominated most the lead vocals (from Paul Williams to David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards, and later singers such as Louis Price, Ali-Ollie Woodson, and Terry Weeks), that singer was never given more of a promotional push than the other members. Co-lead songs, with two or more of the singers sharing the lead vocals, are common in the Temptations catalog, particularly among the psychedelic-era recordings of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

The "Motown Sound"

The group would alter their style several times over the years following their first Motown hit, adapting to the popular styles of the day while retaining their signature visual and vocal styles. The earliest Temptations recordings reflect the influence of producers Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, featuring a blend of black rhythm and blues and white pop music that came to be later identified as the " Motown Sound". Backed by Motown's stalwart studio band, the Funk Brothers, pre-1966 Temptations recordings were built around songs (usually ballads like "My Girl") with simple, direct lyrics supported by an R&B rhythm section with orchestral strings and horns added for pop appeal. During this period, each recording usually featured only one lead singer, usually David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks, although Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Otis Williams each had solo numbers of their own at various times.

Like most Motown groups, melisma and other complicated vocalization techniques were eschewed by the Temptations for a more direct, yet obviously gospel-rooted vocal approach, to make the songs more palatable for white audiences. Creative control remained primarily in Smokey Robinson's hands, although the Temptations, most frequently Eddie Kendricks, periodically co-wrote some of their material. Kendricks also handled the vocal arrangements for all of the Temptations' material.

In 1966, Norman Whitfield changed the group's dynamic, moving them away from the previous one lead singer model and adding elements derived from the rougher soul of artists like James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and the performers at Stax Records. Whitfield and his lyricists crafted Temptations songs with shifts of dynamics, syncopated horn stabs, and more intricate harmony arrangements which spotlighted each singer's unique vocal range. Onstage, this change was reflected in the group's use of a custom-made four-headed microphone stand, which allowed each member freedom to perform without having to all crowd around one or two microphones. Under Whitfield's control, the Temptations retained their white pop appeal, but also gained popularity amongst black audiences as well.

Psychedelic and cinematic soul

When David Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards, and Sly and the Family Stone became popular, Whitfield again restructured the Temptations' sound, this time driving the group almost completely into a "psychedelic soul" sound. Recordings from this period (such as "Cloud Nine" and "Psychedelic Shack") featured echoed vocal tracks, distorted guitar lines with prominent use of the wah-wah pedal, hard-hitting drums, and various stereo effects and sound effects. The majority of these songs feature at least two lead singers; often, all five Temptations sang lead, trading bars a la the Family Stone. Dennis Edwards, whose vocal style had a rougher, more Southern-soul based sound than David Ruffin's, was featured prominently on most of these recordings.

The lyrics for these songs, inspired heavily by Sly Stone's concurrent works, centered primarily around social issues such as integration, the Vietnam War, and self-consciousness. Ballads in the group's traditional style were still being recorded as b-sides and album fillers (the exception being "Just My Imagination"). Many of the psychedelic soul recordings were presented in extended-length mixes longer than the typical three-minute Motown song. Tracks such as the album version of "Run Away Child, Running Wild" from Cloud Nine, "Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind" from Psychedelic Shack, and " Smiling Faces Sometimes" from Sky's the Limit, all run at least eight minutes in length. Much of the running time for each song consists of instrumental passages without vocals, at Whitfield's insistence. The hit version of their smash 1972 single "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" was nearly seven minutes long, with an instrumental intro that was almost two minutes long -- a rarity for songs of that era.

"Psychedelic soul" soon gave way to "cinematic soul": Long recordings with detailed orchestration and extended instrumental introductions and bridging passages, often focusing on lyrics about the ghettos and inner cities of black America. These songs were heavily influenced by the work of singer/songwriters Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. Unlike Hayes and Mayfield, the Temptations had no creative control over their recordings, and were not fond of the twelve and thirteen-minute long songs that Norman Whitfield was now producing for them. Whitfield's contributions were the focal point of Temptations albums such as Solid Rock, All Directions, and particularly Masterpiece.

From funk to disco to adult contemporary

After Whitfield was dismissed as the Temptations' producer in 1974, the group altered its sound to accommodate a balance of both up-tempo dance material and ballads. The vocal arrangements began to again focus primarily on one lead singer per track, although leads were still being periodically shared. In addition, the Temptations themselves, after fighting Motown and Berry Gordy for creative control, began to write and produce some of their material. From this point on, the Temptations focused almost exclusively on songs about romance; songs about social issues similar to the Whitfield-era recordings were periodically recorded as well.

Mid-1970s Temptations recordings focused significantly on funk music influences from artists such as Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone; members of both acts contributed to Temptations material during this period. The group's ballads, reduced to filler material during much of the Whitfield period, were restored to the lush sound of the earlier Smokey Robinson-produced hits. After a brief diversion into disco in the late-1970s, the Temptations settled into an adult contemporary-rooted form of R&B, a style in which they continue to record. As the ages of its members increased, the Temptations' live shows have focused on less intricate choreography, although dancing remains an important aspect of the group's act.

Legacy and influence

The Temptations, with their tailored suits and detailed choreography, set the bar for male soul and R&B groups. Before the Temptations became popular, most black vocal groups were rough, high-energy acts with rawer vocals and more improvisational dance movements. Only a few performers, including contemporaries Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and the Four Tops, showed the refined style that would be popularized by the Temptations.

Berry Gordy insisted his acts be equally appealing to white and black audiences, and employed a creative team to help tailor Motown talent for crossover success. Paul Williams and Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins created the Temptation's trademark precise and energetic, yet refined, dance steps. The most famous of these, the "Temptation Walk", or "Temptation Strut", was adapted from similar moves by the Flamingoes and the Vibrations. From those two sources, Paul Williams crafted the group's signature dance routine.

Motown, like other independent companies, was not a member of ASCAP or BMI, preferring to stay independent and handling their own widely varied distribution through thousands of "Mom & Pop" record stores and small radio stations. Many singles that might have been charted higher did not have the data for the Billboard charts to evaluate, so it is quite possible that the Temptations probably sold more than a "Gold Record" number of most of their early records. Their stage work and lead singer depth made them legends throughout the northern cities and the southern " chitlin' circuit", and were acknowledged by most radio disc jockeys as the strongest group around.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of soul groups showed significant influence from the Temptations, among them the Delfonics, the Chi-Lites, George Clinton's original Parliaments, the Dramatics, and Motown labelmates the Jackson Five and The Undisputed Truth. These acts, and others, showed the influence of the Temptations in both their vocal performances and their onstage choreography. Several more recent soul and R&B vocal groups, including the Johnny Gill-led version of New Edition, Jodeci, BLACKstreet, Dru Hill, and, most notably, 1990s Motown act Boyz II Men, also showed significant influence from the Temptations. It is interesting to note that during the early part of their career, their main competition came from Curtis Mayfield's Impressions, then during the phase where they alternated leads, the Chi-Lites, and in their next phase, the O'Jays. In each case, each group alternated between love songs and songs with messages in their lyrics.

Temptations songs have been covered by scores of musicians, from R&B singers such as Luther Vandross ("Since I Lost My Baby"), to pop vocalists such as Bette Midler ("Just My Imagination"), to rock bands such as Rare Earth ("Get Ready"), Love and rockets, Duran Duran ("Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today") and the Rolling Stones ("Ain't Too Proud to Beg") and Mick Jagger's collaboration with reggae artist Peter Tosh on ("Don't Look Back"). In 1991, British singer Rod Stewart collaborated with the Temptations on the single "The Motown Song".

The lives and careers of The Temptations were one of several inspirations for Robert Townsend's 1991 film about a 1960s Motown-esque male group, The Five Heartbeats.

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked The Temptations #45 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.


The Primes

aka The Cavaliers

  • Paul Williams (1955–1960)
  • Eddie Kendricks (1955–1960)
  • Kel Osbourne (1955–1960)
  • Wiley Waller (1955–1957)

The Distants

aka Otis Williams & the Distants, Otis Williams & the Siberians and The El Domingoes

  • Otis Williams (1958–1960)
  • Elbridge "Al" Bryant (1958–1960)
  • James "Pee-Wee" Crawford (1958–1959)
  • Vernard Plain (1958–1959)
  • Arthur Walton (1958–1959)
  • Melvin Franklin (1959–1960)
  • Richard Street (1959–1960)
  • Albert "Mooch" Harrell (1959–1960)

The Temptations

aka The Elgins

  • Otis Williams (1960–present)
  • Elbridge "Al" Bryant (1960–1963)
  • Melvin Franklin (1960–1995)
  • Eddie Kendricks (1960–1971, 1982 reunion)
  • Paul Williams (1960–1971)
  • David Ruffin (1964–1968, 1982 reunion)
  • Dennis Edwards (1968–1977, 1980–1984, 1987–1989)
  • Ricky Owens (1971)
  • Richard Street (1971–1992)
  • Damon Harris (1971–1975)
  • Glenn Leonard (1975–1983)
  • Louis Price (1977–1980)
  • Ron Tyson (1983–present)
  • Ali-Ollie Woodson (1984–1987, 1989–1997)
  • Theo Peoples (1992–1998)
  • Ray Davis (1994–1995)
  • Harry McGilberry (1995–2003)
  • Terry Weeks (1997–present)
  • Barrington "Bo" Henderson (1998–2003)
  • G.C. Cameron (2003–2007)
  • Joe Herndon (2003–present)
  • Bruce Williamson (2007-present)


U.S. and UK Top Ten singles

The following singles reached the Top Ten of either the United States pop singles chart or the United Kingdom pop singles chart. Also included are the singles that hit #1 on the US R&B charts.

Year Song title US Top 10 UK Top 10 R&B No. 1
1965: " My Girl" 1 - 1
1966: " Get Ready" 29 10 1
1966: " Ain't Too Proud to Beg" 13 - 1
1966: " Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" 3 - 1
1967: " (I Know) I'm Losing You" 8 - 1
1967: "All I Need" 8 - -
1967: "You're My Everything" 6 - -
1968: " I Wish It Would Rain" 4 - 1
1968: " I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)" - - 1
1968 " Cloud Nine" 6 - -
1968: " I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
(Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations)
2 2 -
1969: " Run Away Child, Running Wild" 6 - 1
1969: " I Can't Get Next to You" 1 - 1
1970: " Psychedelic Shack" 7 - -
1970: " Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" 3 7 -
1971: " Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" 1 8 1
1972: " Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" 1 - -
1973: " Masterpiece" 7 - 1
1973: "Let Your Hair Down" - - 1
1974: "Happy People" - - 1
1975: "Shakey Ground" - - 1
1991: "The Motown Song"
( Rod Stewart featuring The Temptations)
10 - -
1992: " My Girl" (reissue) - 2 -

Top Ten albums

The following albums reached the Top Ten on either the United States pop albums chart or the United Kingdom pop albums chart.

  • 1966: Greatest Hits (US #5)
  • 1967: Temptations Live! (US #10)
  • 1967: The Temptations with a Lot o' Soul (US #7)
  • 1968: Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations (with Diana Ross & The Supremes) (US #2)
  • 1968: TCB (with Diana Ross & The Supremes) (US #1)
  • 1969: Cloud Nine (US #4)
  • 1969: Puzzle People (US #5)
  • 1970: Psychedelic Shack (US #9)
  • 1972: All Directions (US #2)
  • 1973: Masterpiece (US #7)


  • 1973: Save the Children
  • 1987: Happy New Year
  • 2007: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Television work

  • 1985: The Fall Guy (TV episode "Rockabye Baby", February 13, 1985)
  • 1985: The Love Boat (TV episode "Your Money or Your Wife/Joint Custody/The Temptations", October 5, 1985)
  • 1986: Moonlighting (TV episode "Symphony in Knocked Flat", October 21, 1986)
  • 1986: 227 (TV episode "Temptations", November 15, 1986)
  • 1990: Murphy Brown (TV episode "Goin' to the Chapel, Part 2", May 21, 1990)
  • 1990: performed CBS network's 1990-91 version of their Get Ready campaign with an updated version of "Get Ready".
  • 1993: Getting By (TV episode "Reach for the Stars", November 23, 1993)
  • 1996: New York Undercover (TV episode "Deep Cover", May 2, 1996)
  • 2008: Friday Night with Jonathan Ross (TV appearance), March 7, 2008

Video and DVD releases

  • 1991: The Temptations - Live in Concert
  • 2004: 20th century Masters - The Best of the Temptations
  • 2006: Get Ready: Definitive Performances - 1965-1972
  • 2007: The Temptations - Live In London (1987)

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