Tag Archives: eddie kendricks

Black History: The Temptations

11(2)Some tunes stand the test of time, like “My Girl” and the same can be said about some groups. When you hear the melodies and incomparable classic of the Temptations today you immediately think of the greatest group of voices that ever sang a song.

The Grammy-Winning Temptations achieved their legendary fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown Records. It’s rare for someone to change the course of time but this group changed the face of music. Often imitated but rarely duplicated!

The original group included second tenor/baritone Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge “Al” Bryant, bass Melvin Franklin, first tenor/falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). 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. Other members included Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, G.C. Cameron and about fifty members total over time.

The history of the Temptations started in Detroit the home of Motown Records around 1961 as the Elgins. Overtime, as members came and went the new members carried the torch with finesse for decades. I would say this was accomplished because of the group’s mantra was “no one member is bigger than the group” and although the lineup frequently changed their impeccable sound did not.

A Motown-centric biography on the Temptations would start pretty glumly. Success eluded the group at first. Working at Motown was a “Dream Come True,” but even that song didn’t bring lasting fame. In 1963, a violent scuffle between Elbridge Bryant and Paul Williams preceded “Al’s” exit. Enter David Ruffin whose weathered tenor injected intriguing angst into the sweetest songs.

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The Temptations with David Ruffin and new tunes by Smokey Robinson was the injection of magic and the just kept coming. The Kendricks led song, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” broke pop’s Top 20 and “My Girl,” 1964 became their signature. Meanwhile, Ruffin switched off with Kendricks at lead was like nothing that has come before or since.

Norman Whitfield, a rival producer, offered brawnier hits than Robinson’s, like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” By the late ’60s, his collaborations with Eddie Holland, and Barrett Strong, had earned him exclusive control over the music of the Temptations.

The group developed its own recognizable style. The Temptations wardrobe ran the fashion gamut: tuxedos, capes, leather, linen, blues, limes, you name it. But the Tempts always looked sharp and fun in their costumes. Eddie Kendricks held some sway over this easy sophistication.

Under the direction of Broadway hoofer Cholly Atkins, the Temptations became renowned dancers, as well. Daily two-hour rehearsals ensured their movements were precise and spectacular enough to rivet fans from bare stages. Paul Williams’ choreography, including the Temptation Walk, oozed sheer erotic energy.

Onstage, group harmony ruled. Offstage, conflicts abounded, particularly between Ruffin and the others. Too much ego and flakiness cost him his membership in 1968. Though he released his own smash, “My Whole World Ended,” solo super-stardom was not meant to be.

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Enter, ex-Contour Dennis Edwards’ convincing vocals, new songs by the Temptations re-emphasized the ensemble. Whitfield’s ambitious “psychedelic soul” phase fused denser grooves with sociopolitical observations, helping fans dance and think at once. Commercially, the Tempts stayed put on “Cloud Nine.”

In 1971 brought both returns and departures after “Just My Imagination,” a throwback to their tender ballads. Exit Eddie Kendricks for a solo career and the disco-esque hits, “Keep on Truckin'” and “Boogie Down.” Exit Paul Williams died as a result of suicide. Two new tenors, Richard Street and Damon Harris gamely met the challenge and held their own against the older classics.

In 1975 things shifted from Harris to Glenn Leonard. Then from Dennis Edwards to Louis Price to Dennis Edwards (who’d leave and come back several times). Then from Motown to Atlantic in 1977, then back to Motown in the early ’80s. Just in time for a reunion tour with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks!

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Enter the great Ali Ollie Woodson who played an integral part in keeping the Temptations from becoming just a nostalgia act. I would refer to him as the Temptations Temptation. I mean this in the sense that by the early 1980s, the Temptations were no longer posting hit after hit as they had in the 1960s and ’70s with songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “My Girl,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” They soared once again with Ali!

In 1989, in flesh and in spirit, the six classic members shared the stage once more at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Smooth spokesman Otis Williams, beloved Batman fanatic Melvin Franklin, ethereally elegant Eddie Kendricks, dynamic David Ruffin, and hard-hitting Dennis Edwards all accepted the award post harmoniously for the late Paul Williams.

All I can say is thanks for the spirit of these great men for their contribution to the world. The Temptations will live for all times. Thank you fellas! And that’s my thought Provoking Perspective…

 


Remembering Eddie Kendricks

2I am one of the Temptations biggest fans but most would agree that every woman who ever heard the sweet tenor voice of the man known simply as “Eddie” was in love with this man. He was a man with the sweetest and silkiest tenor voice of any man to sing a tune.

His persona was quiet and cool, with a voice that made women drool. The tall, lean and handsome tenor from Union Springs, Alabama was little more than eighteen when he arrived in Detroit, the town where he would eventually find fame as a member of the Motown super-group, The Temptations.

Eddie arrived in Detroit along with childhood friends Paul Williams and Kell Osborne. Together they formed a classic vocal group they called The Primes. Their tunes extended beyond the usual teenage Doo-wop tunes to include sophisticated material such as that of the Mills Brothers. So it was natural, or maybe fate, when Otis Williams first saw The Primes perform he couldn’t help but notice the vocal prowess of Kendricks, and the smooth moves of Paul Williams.

When the Primes disbanded, and all three members separated, Eddie came back to Detroit from Birmingham to visit Paul; he put in a phone call to Otis. The timing was perfect since Otis just happened to have two spots to fill in his group, The Distants. Paul and Eddie added a whole new dimension to his group’s sound, and the merging of the two groups became the Elgins. Now, they were ready to audition for Berry Gordy.

The audition went well, and the group was offered a contract right on the spot. It was 1961, but the group wouldn’t have their first hit for a few years. Meanwhile, the group worked hard on their singing, their moves, and their look. Eddie always dressed beautifully; he had a knack for being sharp and hip, but classy at the same time so his job in the group would be wardrobe, and he began putting together the group’s stage uniforms.

The group continued recording on a regular basis with either Paul or Eddie leading on all the early songs, but none of the 1962 singles did much, including the unique “Dream Come True”, and “Paradise”. Both tunes featured Eddie’s vocals, and they are appreciated today, but at the time they didn’t even make the pop chart.

In early 1964, David Ruffin joined the group, and coincidently things began to change. Smokey Robinson told the group he’d booked the studio for them to record a song he’d written with Bobby Rogers, one of the Miracles while driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. That night the five of them met at Eddie’s house and set out on the familiar walk over to Hitsville. The song, “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, was charming and perfect for Eddie’s voice. It was like a dream, finally; the song would peak at number 11 on the pop chart, and the group went off on their first full Motortown Review tour.

Before the year was over, the guys knew that success was not only possible, but probable, and they would get their share of good times and beautiful women, and Eddie, as it would turn out certainly had the power to attract women. Eddie was ahead of his time in picking the clothes, although the guys at first objected to some purple suits he had chosen. Otis thought the suits would make them look like pimps, but in the end they trusted his judgment and he ordered five purple suits with a white button. He was right, when the crowd saw them in those suits; they went absolutely wild.

In 1965, Smokey Robinson, who was writing mostly all of their material, turned his attention away from Eddie momentarily to hand over to David Ruffin who sung their big breakthrough hit “My Girl”. The song would hit number one and stay there for eight weeks. Over the next few years, many of the songs would be cut on David, but Eddie would not be left behind either.

In 1966, Smokey would hand Eddie the song “Get Ready”, but it didn’t do as well as the songs Norman Whitfield wrote with David in mind, such as “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” Norman’s song did much better on the charts, and shortly thereafter, Norman Whitfield would begin writing and producing the group almost exclusively. David would get most of the leads, but Eddie would still have his chance to shine.

The guys were tight and hung out together at one another’s houses where Melvin would cook up a pot of beans and cornbread. Eddie loved cornbread so much the guys playfully nicknamed him “cornbread”. As time passed, and David Ruffin was dismissed in 1968, Eddie changed, upset with the attitudes of some of the group members, he formed an alliance with David outside the group. In the late 1960’s, times would change and so would Norman’s material. Eddie still preferred the harmonious love songs and wanted to do some of his own material separate from the group. The group said no, and Eddie became even more dissatisfied.

It was after a performance at the Copa in 1970. Eddie walked out after the first show, and it was decided, mutually, that it was time for him to leave the Temptations, and so he did, leaving them with one of their all time biggest hits. Eddie went on to have a very respectable solo career and later toured with David and Dennis until the end of his life.

Eddie’s legacy is profound and establish him as one of the greatest Temptations. On October 16, 1999, Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park was dedicated to the Birmingham native. The memorial features a bronze sculpture of Kendricks by local artist Ron McDowell, as well as sculptures of the other Temptations, set into a granite wall. Inscribed on the granite are the names of Temptation’s hit songs. Recorded music can be heard throughout the park, featuring songs by Kendricks and the Temptations.

I will say this: Eddie left the world a lot of music that others are trying to imitate and duplicate! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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Happy Birthday Flo: The Original Dream Girl

22Remembering Florence Ballard on the day of her birth! I thought about titling this piece “Supremely Floriffic” because she was the founding member of the original and most popular girl group The Supremes. Yet, history records her as “The Forgotten Supreme”.

Florence, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson grew up in the now demolished Brewster Projects of Detroit. To make a fascinating story short, after begging Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for work, they were hired to sing. They recorded a string of hits for Motown, which still stand as a museum on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Florence Ballard had a very soulful voice that added great harmony to the group.

Few Motown acts could be put into the same caliber as The Supremes. Some say the Beatles were the greatest group of that era, but I differ in that because almost any Motown act would amply fit in that category, if it were not for racism. You see most black groups of that era were restricted by their color to perform on what was known as the “Chitlin Circuit”. Until Motown, the work of black artists fell into a category called “Race Music”.

Regardless of the real reason or the reason you might believe for her dismissal. In 1967, Ballard was removed from the Supremes lineup and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong. Flo signed away, all her rights to “The Supremes”, for $139.804 in 1968, in a hush/hush meeting in the Northland Inn. After leaving the group, she signed with ABC Records in 1968 forging on an unsuccessful solo career.

It is presumed the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls that chronicles a fictional group called “The Dreams” had a number of plot components that paralleled events in the Supremes’ career. The central character of Effie White, like Florence Ballard, is criticized for being overweight, and is fired from the group.

The film version of Dreamgirls released in 2006 features more overt references to Ballard’s life and the Supremes’ story, including gowns and album covers that are direct copies of Supremes originals. Jennifer Hudson won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie White. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Hudson dedicated her win to Florence Ballard.

As a member, Ballard sang on sixteen top forty singles with the group, including ten number-one hits. After being dropped from the label, Ballard struggled with many of life’s problems for a period of three years. Ballard was making an attempt for a musical comeback when she died of cardiac in February of 1976 at the age of 32. Ballard’s death was considered by one critic as “one of music’s greatest tragedies”. Ballard was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes in 1988.

On Friday, Feb 27th, almost 5000 people lined the street in front of the New Bethel Baptist Church to say goodbye to her. Diana Ross arrived and was booed by the crowd. The Reverend C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s dad) presided over the service. Members of the Four Tops, Marvin Johnson and Thearon Hill served as pallbearers and Stevie Wonder was an honorary one.

In the spirit of Black History I will not dishonor Flo’s memory with innuendo or any of the rumors that have circulated during and since her death. However, I will say this, not unlike many artists who live a soap-opera type career. She as well as many of Motown’s successful group lends credence to the old belief that great art comes from troubled lives. But even in the face of hardship their legend remains for all of eternity.Sleep well and rest in peace “Dream Girl”. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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A Salute To Motown Records

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We are the inventors and creators of the sounds that changed world cultures. If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago, it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World, we brought the drum that dictated the rhythms souls. It is a fact that Black people are responsible for the great music known to the world as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear speaks directly to our glorious past.

During the despicable era’s of slavery and segregation, prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a people, and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, it was not unlike the days when they called our music “race music” and radio would not play it for white audiences; let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV.

This brings me to the historic, game-changing, record label Motown and its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”. For many who don’t know or have forgotten, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on white radio. The music was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1959 when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown Records, few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American to feature black artists, and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, which was a style of soul music with a distinct influence. From its Hitsville U.S. housed in a tiny building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters producing the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

The music produced by Motown made a nation of people living in this nation without a nationality proud with its awe-inspiring run of hits that spoke to the essence of our souls.

It was from that tiny little basement studio where the world was introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that touched our hearts making us proud. Oh, even Dr. Martin Luther King recorded and album at Motown!

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart, as I am sure with you and millions around the world. So again I say, thank you, Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends that are no longer able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make heaven more glorious than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Heavenly Choir

I began my day thinking about my dear son who transitioned and left this life some years ago. I like to think he is always with me and through pray he knows this. Then as I read today’s paper and read a story about the condition of Bobbi Kristina and felt deeply saddened that it appears she will not recover. As I continued, I remembered all of the friends and family who have passed.

My grandmother loved music, and I began to wonder what it must be like in heaven where the ghosts of the greats gather to sing in that heavenly choir. The harmony must be simply amazing. When these great artists were alive and with us black music – soul music – was awesome. Thankfully, they left us their gift to enjoy forever.

Of course, there are far to many to list but I’ll name a few choir member that are walking around heaven all day: Whitney Houston, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston, James Brown, Etta James, Donny Hathaway, Isaac Hayes, Nic Ashford, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Tammie Terrell, Teena Marie, Levi Stubbs, Barry White, Grover Washington Jr., Johnny Taylor, Bob Marley, the Levert brothers, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson. YOU WILL NOT BE FORGOTTEN, WE MISS YOU AND LOVE YOU!

Times were much difficult for black people, but the struggle brought out such creative music from the souls of these greats be it in the secular world and in the church. Today’s black artists do not know what it is to be innovative and create their own music, and if they do, they do not have what I know as soul, you hardly feel anything. The late 90′s and into the 21st century was the worst time in the world of soul music. New generations start producing their music, then it negatively affects the black community, because they did not learn from the great artist that came before them or know what it means to be creative.

What I see and hear, for the most part, black music could be at the point of no return. Furthermore, the artists who are now deceased singing in that glorious choir in this place called heaven were originals who never imitated any other music artists to gain fame. These days, you have a lot of imitators, and this is one of the main reasons why we have no more black artist with real soul that touch our souls when they sing.

Moreover, it appears that the new generations have no knowledge of what soul music means or even how to just be an original artist. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Peace, Love, and Soul

2I wonder how many people realize how much Soul Train meant to our community and what it did for the African American pride. Let’s remember the show appeared less than a decade after society barred “collared music” from being heard on must media through a segregated program called “Race Music”.

So much of what is written on the pages of time is skewed or simply altered to fit His-Story. I have said many times “our story is the greatest story ever told”. We, as a people, have had the fortitude to make something out of nothing. Yes, and I know that is an understatement – but it is true. Through this writing, I want to pay homage to Don Cornelius who made something possible at a time when it was impossible.

I left for Vietnam in 1969. At that time, representation on television as it related to African American’s was basically nonexistent. Of course, there was the baboonery and unrealistic representations of who they wanted us to be or appear to the world. When I returned, a year and a half later, changed as a young man as well as the world I left behind. Thanks in large part to Mr. Soul Train. From the time of my return until the show ended, I devoted nearly every Saturday afternoon to viewing “Soul Train”.

The host of this groundbreaking show was a tall always stylishly dress host in the latest fashion; at least for the time. That man was Don Cornelius an enigmatic mélange of ambition, vision and begrudging affection, who like most old school show biz impresarios. African American’s knew that his rival American Bandstand did very little for the artist or our community at that time. Mr. Cornelius had the vision to create the hippest trip on television and dare I say in America.

Sadly the Soul Train creator ended his own life on February 1, 2012 with a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head that I would reverberated around the world. Mr. Soul Train was not just a great American story of triumph over travail; he was a hallowed symbol to the African American community.

He used his platform to change the world through its outstanding reflections of our pride and talent. The news of his suicide on the first day of Black History Month was a jarring way to enter a month-long celebration of the contributions of African Americas to the vitality and veracity of this nation and the world.

His mission was to shine a light, a bright light, on the African American culture through great music and to showcase the performers who in many cases had no other national platform. This included the known, unknown, and obscure literally making stars of them overnight. Soul Train was the powerful vehicle, and it became the longest running syndicated show on television, a black history fact to remember.

Watching Soul Train made you instantly cool, no matter if you were black, white or otherwise. Where else could you learn the latest dances, hippest fashions, and the next best way to rock that Afro and what products you had to have to keep it looking good? The legendary Soul Train Line was essential viewing. Can you remember those parties you attend on Saturday night’s after watching the show where you used the moves to do your own Soul Train line? It could be said that it raised your “Cool IQ”. Soul Train was a window into a world rarely seen by the world.

Mr. Cornelius stepped down as the host of Soul Train in 1993, but the show continued with a series of new hosts who continued his vision, inculcating a new generation of Soul Train devotees. Soul Train remained the hippest trip in American until it went off the air in 2006.

When Mr. Cornelius signed off on February 1, 2012, it was a tragic end to a long running iconic figure in American music. His contributions will never be forgotten or matched and his legacy will last – I wish him love, peace and soul. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


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