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The Temptations
The Temptations, 1991 by Zoran Veselinovic.jpg
Background information
Also known as Otis Williams & the Siberians, The Primes, The Distants, Otis Williams & the Distants, The Elgins, The Pirates
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres R&B, soul, funk, doo-wop, rock and roll
Years active 1960–present
Labels Warwick, Miracle, Gordy, Motown, Atlantic, New Door/Universal
Associated acts The Supremes, The Temptations Review, Smokey Robinson
Members Otis Williams
Ron Tyson
Terry Weeks
Joe Herndon
Bruce Williamson
Past members Elbridge "Al" Bryant
Melvin Franklin
Eddie Kendricks
Paul Williams
David Ruffin
Dennis Edwards
Ricky Owens
Richard Street
Damon Harris
Glenn Leonard
Louis Price
Ali-Ollie Woodson
Theo Peoples
Ray Davis
Harry McGilberry
Barrington "Bo" Henderson
G. C. Cameron

The Temptations are an American vocal group who released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. The group's work with producer Norman Whitfield, beginning with the Top 10 hit single "Cloud Nine" in October 1968, pioneered psychedelic soul, and was significant in the evolution of R&B and soul music. The band members are known for their choreography, distinct harmonies, and dress style. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are among the most successful groups in popular music.

Featuring five male vocalists and dancers (save for brief periods with fewer or more members), the group formed in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan, under the name The Elgins. The founding members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge "Al" Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group's biggest hits, including "My Girl" (1964), "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (1966), and "I Wish It Would Rain" (1967). Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as "Cloud Nine" (1969) and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" (1970). The group's lineup has changed frequently since the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Later members of the group have included singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, with whom the group scored a late-period hit in 1984 with "Treat Her Like a Lady".

Over the course of their career, the Temptations released four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and fourteen R&B number-one singles. Their music has earned three Grammy Awards. The Temptations were the first Motown recording act to win a Grammy Award – for "Cloud Nine" in 1969 – and in 2013 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Six of the Temptations (Edwards, Franklin, Kendricks, Ruffin, Otis Williams and Paul Williams) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Three classic Temptations songs, "My Girl", "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)", and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The Temptations were ranked at number 68 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time.

History

The Primes and The Distants

The Primes

Best friends Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, along with singing partner Kel Osbourne, left their native Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 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 were 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 junior high schoolers Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diane Ross, and Betty McGlown for the spin-off act.

Otis Williams & The Distants

Otis Williams had moved from Texarkana, Texas to Detroit as a young boy. By 1958 he was the leader of Otis Williams & The Siberians, a doo-wop group which 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 dee-jay Senator Bristol Bryant.

The single never took off outside of the local Detroit market, and the Siberians switched to Northern Records, run by Jonnie Mae Matthews. At this time, more changes took place: Montgomery, Alabama native Melvin Franklin replaced Arthur Walton as the bass singer, Franklin's cousin Richard Street replaced Vernard Plain as lead singer, and the name of the group was changed to Otis Williams & The Distants. The Distants recorded two singles for Northern: "Come On" (1959, featuring additional background vocals by The Andantes) and "Open Your Heart" (1960); both singles had "Always" as a b-side. Between the releases of the two singles, Pee-Wee Crawford was replaced with Albert "Mooch" Harrell.

Forming the Elgins

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 considered themselves friendly rivals of each other. In late 1960, Mooch Harrell and Richard Street left the Distants and Kel Osbourne left the Primes and moved to California. Eddie Kendricks called Otis Williams, who offered Kendricks a place in The Distants; Kendricks agreed only if he could bring Paul Williams into the group with him.

The new lineup of Otis Williams, Franklin, Bryant, Kendricks, and Paul Williams took on the name The Elgins and pursued a deal with Berry Gordy's local Motown record label in March 1961. Gordy agreed to sign the group to his Miracle Records imprint, provided they change their name. Otis Williams and Miracle employee Billy Mitchell came up with the name The Temptations on the steps of Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters. During the same months, The Primes' former protégés The Primettes signed to Motown and Gordy had their name changed to The Supremes.

Early years

The Temptations released two singles on Miracle before it was closed and merged with the Gordy label (to avoid confusion with The Miracles singing group). Six of the Tempts' first seven singles, all released between 1961 and 1963, failed to make it onto the Billboard singles charts; "Dream Come True" (1962) made it to #22 on the R&B chart. Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks split most of the leads, with Al Bryant, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin occasionally singing lead. Bryant, who preferred his day job as a milkman to performing, became restless and uncooperative. After a performance at the 1963 Motown company Christmas party, Bryant was fired from the group. His replacement was David Ruffin, younger brother of Motown artist Jimmy Ruffin.

Many songwriter and producer teams had been trying to craft a hit for the Tempts, including Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Clarence Paul, and Norman Whitfield, but Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson had the best rapport with the group. In January 1964, Robinson co-wrote and produced "The Way You Do The Things You Do" with Kendricks on lead; the single became the Tempts' first Top 20 hit that April. While traveling as part of Motown's Motortown Revue later that year, Robinson and fellow Miracle Ronald White wrote a song for the emotive Ruffin to sing lead on, which the Tempts recorded in the fall of 1964. That song, "My Girl," became the Tempts’ first #1 pop hit in December, and is today their signature song. Ruffin also sung lead on the next three Tempts singles, "It's Growing", "Since I Lost My Baby" and "My Baby", all of which made it to the Top 20 in 1965.

New Producer

In 1966, Norman Whitfield became the Temptations' new main producer ,after his "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" performed better than Smokey Robinson's "Get Ready" on the US pop charts.

Nearly all of the pre-1968 Whitfield-produced Tempts singles featured David Ruffin on lead vocals, including the R&B #1/pop Top 10 hits "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" and "(I Know) I'm Losing You". Other singles from this prolific period included "You're My Everything", on which Ruffin and Kendricks share lead vocals, and "All I Need", produced by Whitfield's protégé Frank Wilson. Whitfield's writing partners during this period included Roger Penzabene, Cornelius Grant, and Edward Holland, Jr.. Barrett Strong, the singer on Motown's first hit "Money (That's What I Want)", began his long songwriting partnership with Whitfield with the December 1967 release "I Wish It Would Rain".

1964 - 1968

The Temptations on the Ed Sullivan Show
The Temptations perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1969. Left to right: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Dennis Edwards.

Between 1964 and 1968, The Temptations went from unknown hopefuls to international stars. The group appeared frequently on television shows such as 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.

Beginning in 1968, Berry Gordy commissioned a number of collaborations for the Tempts with their old colleagues, Diana Ross & The Supremes, including a joint tour, two studio albums (Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations and Together), and two NBC television specials, TCB (aired December 9, 1968) and G.I.T. On Broadway (aired in 1969).

Psychedelic soul

In late-1968, Norman Whitfield began producing psychedelic-based material for the Temptations, based on the sound of rock band Sly & The Family Stone. This new style, which debuted with "Cloud Nine" in fall 1968, was a marked departure from the David Ruffin-era love ballads: the instrumentation was funkier, the beat was driven harder, and all five Tempts traded led vocals ala the Family Stone. "Cloud Nine", which was 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 Performance of 1968. 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 & The Supremes ("Reflections", "Love Child"), Marvin Gaye ("I Heard It Through The Grapevine"), The Fifth Dimension, and War. More Temptations "psychedelic soul" singles would follow over the next two years, including "Runaway Child, Running Wild", the #1 pop hit "I Can't Get Next to You", and "Psychedelic Shack" in 1969); and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" and "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)" in 1970.

The Temptations in the early 1970s

Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Richard Street, and Damon Harris continued recording and performing, and Norman Whitfield continued producing hits for the group, including the Top 40 hits "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" (1971), a message from the Tempts to the estranged David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and "Take A Look Around" (1972).

1972 saw the release of Norman Whitfield's magnum opus, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone". Originally a record Whitfield had written and produced for The Undisputed Truth, Whitfield took the somber tune and created a sprawling, dramatic fourteen-minute version for the Temptations. An edited seven-minute version was released as a single in September 1972, hitting #1 on the pop charts and #5 on the R&B charts. In 1973, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" won the Tempts their second Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Group; Whitfield and arranger/conductor Paul Riser won for Best R&B Instrumental Performance with the instrumental version of "Papa" on the single's b-side, and Whitfield and Barret Strong won the songwriters' Best R&B Song Award.

The success of "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" led Whitfield, who at this time stopped working with Barrett Strong and began writing and arranging the Temptations material on his own, to create more elongated, operatic pieces, including the Top 40 hit "Masterpiece" (1973) and the tracks on the same-named album it anchored. Whitfield gradually became arrogant and difficult to work with, and his productions began to emphasize his talents over those of the Tempts. 1973 saw the release of the final two Whitfield-produced albums, Zoom and 1990, which included the Top 30 single "Let Your Hair Down". The Temptations complained about Whitfield to Berry Gordy, who intervened and reassigned them to producer Jeffery Bowen. Whitfield left Motown shortly afterwards, and in 1975 established Whitfield Records, bringing The Undisputed Truth, and Rose Royce, who performed the instrumental track for "Let Your Hair Down", with him.

Return to Motown and Reunion

Upon the return to Motown, Price departed from the group, and Dennis Edwards returned to the lineup. Berry Gordy co-wrote and produced the Tempts' first single under the new contract, "Power", which missed the Top 40 but hit #11 on the R&B charts. Two years of underperforming singles and albums followed until, in 1982, Motown began making plans for a Temptations reunion tour.

Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, whose solo careers had by now run dry, agreed to re-join the Temptations for the Reunion album and tour. Motown funk star Rick James, who had used the Tempts as backup vocalists on his 1981 hit "Super Freak", wrote, produced, and guest starred on the album's lead single, "Standing On The Top". The song, which featured Ruffin, and Kendricks, and Dennis Edwards on lead, went to #6 on the R&B charts. The Reunion tour with all seven Tempts (Ruffin, Kendricks, Edwards, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Richard Street, and Glenn Leonard) was only partially successful; Kendricks' voice had weakened after decades of chain smoking, and Ruffin missed a number of the performances. At the conclusion of the Reunion tour, Ruffin and Kendricks departed and began touring and performing together as a duo, and Glenn Leonard left and was replaced by Ron Tyson.

From the 1980s to the 1990s

Tempts-1998-phoenix
The cover to The Temptations' 1998 album Phoenix Rising.

By this time, the Temptations' releases were no longer performing well on the pop charts, though they sometimes performed well on the R&B charts, with "Love On My Mind Tonight" making it to #17, and "Sail Away", produced by a returning Norman Whitfield, making it to #13. In 1984, Edwards left the group for a solo career, and was replaced with Ali-Ollie Woodson, who sung lead on the #2 R&B hit "Treat her Like A Lady", co-written by Otis Williams and himself. Woodson remained with the Temptations until 1987, when he was replaced by a returning (for the second time) Dennis Edwards.

Dennis Edwards left the Temptations for the third and final time in 1988, with Ali-Ollie Woodson re-joining the lineup. The same year, Otis Williams published his autobiography, Temptations, which he co-authored with Patricia Romanowski. The book chronicled the careers of the Temptations from the Primes/Distants days to the present, focusing on the lives of Williams and his best friend Melvin Franklin. An updated version of the book was published in 2002.

In 1989, the Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 1998, the Temptations released Phoenix Rising, their first million-selling album in over twenty years. The album was anchored by the single "Stay", a #1 hit on the adult contemporary charts that features a sample from the Tempts' "My Girl". By this time, Ali-Ollie Woodson and Theo Peoples had departed the group, replaced with Barrington "Bo" Henderson and Terry Weeks, respectively.

The Temptations mini-series

1998 also saw the debut of The Temptations, a four-hour television miniseries broadcast in two-hour halves on NBC on November 1 and November 2, 1998. Produced by former Motown executive Suzanne de Passe and based upon Otis Williams' Temptations autobiography, the miniseries starred Charles Malik Whitfield as Otis Williams, Leon as David Ruffin, D.B. Woodside as Melvin Franklin, Terron Brooks as Eddie Kendricks, and Christian Payton as Paul Williams. Also featured were Vanessa Bell Calloway as Jonnie Mae Matthews and Mel Jackson as Norman Whitfield. The miniseries was a ratings success, and was subsequently rerun on the VH-1 cable television network and released to VHS and DVD.

Some of the people portrayed in the film, including Jonnie Mae Matthews, Otis Williams' ex-wife Josephine, Melvin Franklin's mother Rose Franklin, and David Ruffin's mother, filed suit against Williams, Motown, DePasse Entertainment, and NBC for defamation of character, alledging that the miniseries mis-portrayed them and twisted facts. The judges ruled in favor of the defendants.

From 2000 to present

TemptationsRAH2005
The Temptations on stage at London's Royal Albert Hall, November 2005. Pictured L-R: Joe Herndon, Otis Williams, G.C. Cameron, Terry Weeks, and 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.

Harry McGilberry died on April 3, 2006, at the age of 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 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." Dennis Edwards, Ali-Ollie Woodson and David Sea (deep soul singer from Alabama, not David Ruffin) formed The Temptations tribute group "The Temptations Revue featuring Dennis Edwards".

Former member Ali-Ollie Woodson died on May 30, 2010, after a long battle with leukemia.

On May 4, 2010, the group released their Still Here album. The first single from Still Here, "First Kiss", was criticized for having instances of using Auto-Tune technology.

The Temptations received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on February 9, 2013. Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, and the children of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Melvin Franklin attended the ceremony to accept the six Grammys given to the group for the occasion.

Former member Damon Harris died on February 18, 2013, from prostate cancer at a Baltimore hospital. Nine days later, former member Richard Street died of pulmonary embolism in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dennis Edwards died on February 1, 2018, two days before his 75th birthday. He had been battling with meningitis before his death.

On May 4, 2018, the Temptations released All the Time, their first album since 2010's Still Here, as well as their first for Universal's UMe Direct imprint.

Founding member Otis Williams said the Temptations will record a new album once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

Past member Bruce Williamson was diagnosed with COVID-19 after having recovered from gall bladder surgery. He died on September 6, 2020, in Las Vegas from complications of COVID-19. He was 49.

Members

Current

  • Otis Williams (1960–present)
  • Ron Tyson (1983–present)
  • Terry Weeks (1997-present)
  • Willie Green (2015–present)
  • Mario Corbino (2020–present)

Past

  • Melvin Franklin (1960–1995) (d. 1995)
  • Eddie Kendricks (1960–1971, 1982 reunion) (d. 1992)
  • Paul Williams (1960–1971) (d. 1973)
  • Elbridge "Al" Bryant (1960–1964) (d. 1975)
  • David Ruffin (1964–1968, 1982 reunion) (d. 1991)
  • Dennis Edwards (1968–1977, 1980–1984, 1987–1989) (d. 2018)
  • Ricky Owens (1971) (d. 1996)
  • Richard Street (1971–1993) (d. 2013)
  • Damon Harris (1971–1975) (d. 2013)
  • Glenn Leonard (1975–1983)
  • Louis Price (1977–1980)
  • Ali-Ollie Woodson (1984–87, 1989–1996, 2002) (d. 2010)
  • Theo Peoples (1993–1998)
  • Ray Davis (1995) (d. 2005)
  • Harry McGilberry (1996–2003) (d. 2006)
  • Barrington "Bo" Henderson (1998–2003)
  • G. C. Cameron (2003–2007, 2019)
  • Joe Herndon (2003–2015)
  • Bruce Williamson (2006–2015) (d. 2020)
  • Larry Braggs (2015–2019)
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