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The Temptations
Classic 5 Temptations circa 1965
Background information
Also known as Otis Williams & the Siberians, The Primes, The Distants, Otis Williams & the Distants, The Elgins, The Pirates
Origin Detroit, Michigan, USA
Genre R&B, Soul, Funk, Doo-wop
Years active 1960-present
Associated acts The Supremes
The Temptations Review
The Primes
Members Otis Williams
Terry Weeks
Joe Herndon
Ron Tyson
Bruce Williamson
Former members Elbridge "Al" Bryant (deceased)
Melvin Franklin (deceased)
Eddie Kendricks (deceased)
Paul Williams (deceased)
David Ruffin (deceased)
Dennis Edwards
Richard Street
Ricky Owens (deceased)
Damon Harris
Glenn Leonard
Louis Price
Ali-Ollie Woodson
Theo Peoples
Ray Davis (deceased)
Harry McGilberry (deceased)
Barrington "Bo" Henderson
G. C. Cameron

The Temptations are an American vocal group that achieved fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown. The group's repertoire has included, at various times during its five-decade career R&B, doo-wop, funk disco soul and adult contempory music.


First formed in 1961, The Tempations are one of the few surviving groups from the days when Motown ruled the airwaves. In forty years, the group has dealt with numerous changes in the group's lineup and the ever-changing tastes of popular music. Despite such changes, The Temptations have managed to maintain their style, sound, and popularity.

It was in 1961 that two members of the Primes, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, and three members of the Distants, Otis Williams, Elbridge Bryant, and Melvin Franklin decided to form a group. Although both the Primes and the Distants were popular in their local Detroit, neither group had produced a national hit. The quintet decided on the name, the Elgins. But the group soon learned that the name of a high-quality watch had already been adopted by another music group. Finally, the group decided to call themselves the Temptations. "You can see today that it was the perfect name," wrote Otis Williams in his book Temptations. "It was about style and elegance but also suggested romance ". From their earliest days, Williams added, the group made a conscious effort to cultivate an image of sophistication. Williams wrote, "In our songs and in our moves, we were subtler and more romantic than some other guys, who were always grunting and sweating and carrying on."

Motown Records[]

The Temptations auditioned for Berry Gordy, and, impressed by their harmonizing, Gordy immediately offered them a contract on the spot. Now a fixture of Motown Records' roster, the group played at numerous Detroit clubs, earning an enthusiastic following. The also sang backup for many Motown stars, in addition to touring with the Motortown Revue. After none of the group's first seven singles produced a hit, Gordy briefly renamed the act the Pirates. Gordy had hoped the 1962 name change would change their luck, but the group was relieved their releases as the Pirates, "Mind Over Matter" and "I'll Love You Till I Die," also flopped. Williams explained in Temptations, "We'd have died for a hit, but if it meant going through life in pirate uniforms, no thanks!"

Elbridge Bryant left the group in 1964, due to personality conflicts, and he was replaced by David Ruffin, a Detroit singer who had enjoyed some solo success. Ruffin possessed an athletic stage presence, performing spins, cartwheels, and splits. The addition of Ruffin brought an exciting new dimension to the act. The Temptations then began working with Cholly Atkins, choreographer for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Cadillacs, and other successful groups. Atkins developed many of the Temptations's trademark dance steps.

The group finally achieved national success with the 1964 single, "The Way You Do the Things You Do." Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, the song peaked at number 11 on the pop charts. Motown, capitalizing on this success, released Meet the Temptations that same year. The album included "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and its B side, "Just Let Me Know," along with all of the group's previously unsuccessful singles.

First Number One[]

The following year, the Temptations had their first number-one hit, "My Girl." Also that year, the group worked with producer Norman Whitfield, and the end result was one of their most popular songs. "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" marked the start of a long and successful collaboration. "Norman Whitfield could and did produce soft, smooth ballads with the best of them but, stylistically speaking, he was headed into another realm," wrote Otis Williams in Temptations. "His backing tracks crackled with more intricate percussion, wailing, almost rock-style guitars, and arrangements that featured us as five distinct singers instead of one lead singer fronting a homogenized doo-wop chorus....He took us in new directions without losing the heart of our sound."

The Temptations remained one of the most popular acts in America for several years. They played the hottest nightclubs and appeared on numerous television shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show. The group also joined with the Supremes for a series of recordings and television appearances that broadened both groups' appeal. A special four- headed microphone was designed specifically for them, allowing members enough distance from each other so that, even when executing complicated moves, they were in no danger of stepping on each other.

Success, however, brought its own set of problems. Some members proved unable to handle their wealth and fame. Ego clashes often flared within the group, and the late 1960s and early 1970s saw several changes in the group's roster. David Ruffin left to pursue a solo career in 1968 and was replaced by Dennis Edwards. Edwards's career with the group was fitful; he was asked to leave in 1974 and replaced by Louis Price, but returned briefly in 1979, only to be turned out in favor of Ollie Woodson. Edwards returned to the group a third time in 1986. In 1970 Eddie Kendricks decided to go solo, and he was replaced by Ricky Owens of the Vibrations. Owens was almost immediately dismissed in favor of Damon Harris, who stayed with the group until 1974. Harris was then replaced by Glenn Leonard, who was, in turn, replaced by Ron Tyson in 1982. Paul Williams, with his worsening alcoholism and related health problems, was asked to leave the group in 1971; his spot was filled by Richard Street. Williams committed suicide two years later.

Psychedelic Soul[]

At the same time that the group was undergoing these rapid roster changes, the Temptations and producer Whitfield still managed to pioneer the "psychedelic soul" movement. Characterized by an electric funk sound and socially conscious lyrics, this new musical trend yielded several big hits for the Temptations, including "Cloud Nine," "Ball of Confusion," and "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone." Whitfield persisted with the movement long after psychedelic soul had run its course, and the once-creative relationship between the Temptations and their producer became stagnet. Otis Williams reported in Temptations that Whitfield began minimizing the singers' contributions: "On some tracks our singing seemed to function as ornamentation for Norman's instrumental excursions. When we started reading articles where writers referred to us as 'the Norman Whitfield Choral Singers," we really got mad."

The Autumn of 1972 saw the release of,"Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" a magnum opus produced by Norman Whitfield. Originally a three-minute record written and produced for the Undisputed Truth. Whitfield took the sombre tune and created a sprawling, dramatic eleven-and three-quarter-minute version for the Temptations, an example of a format which would become known as one of the earliest examples of an extended single, soon to become popular in clubs and discotheques. An edited seven-minute version was released as a single in September 1972, becoming one of the longest hit singles in music history, hitting number-one on the pop charts and number-five on the R&B charts. Radio DJ's loved the song for its length as much as for the catchy beat and lyrics, as the song's length allowed them to go across the street from the station for a sandwich during their shift and return before the record ended. 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.

Fans of the group were disappointed as well, and record sales fell dramatically. The Temptations sought more artistic control, but Berry Gordy was deaf to their requests. Frustrated, the group severed its ties with Motown in 1976.

It was now the age of disco, and many Motown acts faded away. A two-year contract with Atlantic failed to help the Temptations out of their slump. In 1979 they renegotiated a return to Motown. Shortly thereafter, the classic Motown sound came back into vogue and the Temptations were once again in demand. Ruffin and Kendricks briefly rejoined the group for a tour, but personality conflicts soon resurfaced, and the Temptations quickly returned to a five-man lineup. After their appearance on the Motown 25 television special, they teamed with the Four Tops for a "T 'n T Tour" that ran worldwide for nearly three years.

The early 1990s saw the deaths of several Temptations. On June 1, 1991 David Ruffin, who had left the group in 1968, died of a drug overdose. Ruffin's ex-wife, Sandra, told People Weekly, "The only downfall he had was the drugs. He was really trying, but after 24 years with the drugs, he just couldn't conquer it" The following year, Eddie Kendricks, one of the group's original members, died of lung cancer. Another original member, Melvin Franklin, died in 1995. Franklin had left the group in 1994, due to failing health. After suffering a series of brain seizures in February of 1995, Franklin was hospitalized, dying of heart failure a month later. Otis Williams was now the only living, original member of the Temptations.

This decade also saw further changes in the Temptations's roster. Ali Woodson, a member since 1983, left the group to pursue a solo career. Theo Peoples joined the group in the early 1990s. Temptation Ron Tyson had seen Peoples perform at a St. Louis jazz club, and invited Peoples to audition. Peoples told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the new members of the group try to sound as much like the original members as possible, maintaining a consistent Temptations sound. "But maybe we also interject a little of ourselves," he added.

Duran Duran[]


Grammy Award, Best R&B Performance by a Group, for "Cloud Nine," 1969, for "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone," 1972; Grammy, Best R&B song and Best R&B instrumental performance, for "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone," 1972; American Music Award, Best Vocal Group, 1974.

Selected discography[]

  • Meet the Temptations, 1964
  • The Temptations Sing Smokey, 1965.
  • Temptin' Temptations, 1965.
  • The Temptations Greatest Hits, 1966.
  • Temptations Live!, 1967, 1969.
  • Temptations Greatest Hits, Volume II, 1970.
  • All the Million-Sellers, 1981.
  • The Temptations 25th Anniversary, 1986.
  • To Be Continued, 1986.
  • Together Again, 1987.
  • Phoenix Rising, 1998.
  • Ear-Resistable, 2000.
  • Awesome, 2001.
Albums with Diana Ross and the Supremes[]
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes Join the Temptations, 1968.
  • TCB, 1968.
  • Together, 1969.
  • On Broadway, 1969.