I 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…