Photo courtesy of the Motown Museum
A RETROSPECTIVE: IN BRIEF
The Temptations’ story is an epic journey of courage, struggle, triumphs, setbacks, and ultimately, international superstardom. The genesis and magnitude of their greatness is one of the most extraordinary stories of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Billboard Magazine in 2017 called them the “#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of All Time,” and in November of 2019 the magazine named them one of the 125 “Greatest of All Time Artists” in music.
Here’s a brief retrospective of their legendary history and distinguished contributions over the past sixty years. Looking through a rear-view lens, what follows is a celebration of the Temptations’ artistry, legacy, and revered music that will live on for all eternity.
From their origins in Detroit, Michigan six decades ago, to countries around the globe, from concert stages worldwide, to one of the greatest stages on earth – Broadway -- in 2019, the Temptations’ journey covers not only their personal history but the history of America, as well.
The group’s coming of age, and musical development happens at a volatile time in the country’s history. The 1960’s are challenging times. The nation is suffering from the loss of its president, the civil rights and feminist movements are in full swing, and the marches for equality and the freedom to vote are unraveling the thin threads holding the country together. The Temptations and other African American artists, stare down racism and discrimination on bus tours throughout the South during these turbulent times of civil unrest. Amid the intense racial tensions at home and a raging war in Vietnam, the cultural upheaval gives birth to the Temptations’ own political consciousness, which finds its way into their music by the decades’ end.
It is the power of music, here and abroad, by artists, including the Temptations, that help raise the spirit of the country and uplift a nation desperately searching for common bonds and a glimmer of hope and humanity. Songs, like “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and other favorites, many of which are considered American classics today, bring people together in ways previously unimagined.
In the 60’s the classic line-up—Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams—creates some of the most memorable songs from the group’s extraordinary catalog of super hits. The first several years of their career, Smokey Robinson is the Temptations’ primary producer and song writer. In March 1965, “My Girl,” becomes their first #1 Pop, million-copy best-seller and it goes on to become one of the all-time greatest songs ever recorded. It’s the first of many #1 hits that will take these five young men well beyond the studios of Hitsville USA.
The “Classic Five,” as they become known, have distinct harmonies and smooth dance moves that set them apart and take America by storm. Originally, Paul Williams coordinates the group’s dance moves and staging, and their performances dazzle audiences. Later, the distinguished choreographer, Cholly Atkins, who Motown brings in as part of its artist development, synchronizes their steps even further and the “Temptations’ Walk” soon becomes as world-famous as they are. They tour the country with other Motown artists, as a part of the “Motortown Revue,” but it becomes apparent they have star power that is undeniable and will eventually lead to international fame and fortune.
When Motown hires Shelly Berger in mid-1966 to manage the Temptations and Supremes, as well as other artists, it marks a significant change in perceptions about growth opportunities for talent, as well as a sea change in the overall marketing direction for the Temptations. Berger becomes largely responsible for establishing many Motown artists in the mainstream which eventually leads to tremendous international success for the Temptations and others. He and legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy mastermind moving Motown stars not only into broader pop culture but also turning them into show business superstars. One of Berger’s first, and unprecedented, strategies is to have the Temptations open for the Supremes during several concerts and television appearances. The move succeeds in broadening the Temptations audience in middle America. Under Berger’s acute leadership and vision, the group makes countless television appearances on national mainstream programs.
The Temptations are trailblazers, leading the way, not only for themselves, but also for other R&B artists hoping to integrate mainstream America. Performing on national television programs, such as “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “American Bandstand,” “The Hollywood Palace,” “Shindig,” “Hullabaloo,” and others, plus performing in high society supper clubs in the 60’s, brings the Temptations—five young, African American men—into the living rooms of both black and white families, on millions of television screens, across America. This phenomenal television exposure popularizes their beloved songs, and coupled with the support of DJ’s across the country, leads to chart-topping success, not only on R&B lists but on Billboard Pop 100 charts too.
They release nine albums, seven of which are studio albums, between the spring of 1964 and spring of 1968. In that time frame, they start out with Smokey Robinson as their major producer and then transition to songs written and produced by Norman Whitfield. The Temptations Wish It Would Rain album, produced by Whitfield, the group’s seventh studio album, releases on April 29, 1968, and marks their unprecedented 8th consecutive #1 R&B album (including their Temptations Live! album, which is the group’s first live album). Wish It Would Rain is also the final album the original, “Classic Five” release together. The single, “I Wish It Would Rain” becomes a #1 R&B hit and, over the years, has been released by other artists, including Ike and Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and more.
The End of 60’s/Beginning of 70’s
By the end of the 60’s and on the cusp of the 70’s, the group creates what some are calling the “second classic line-up,” which includes: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams. It is this line-up that delivers the Temptations’ and Motown’s first ever, Grammy Award in 1969 for the ‘Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group, Vocal or Instrumental,” for the song, “Cloud Nine.” This line-up also produces the group’s next two Billboard Hot 100 # 1 Pop, bestselling songs, “I Can’t Get Next You” (1969), and “Just My Imagination,” (1971). And the hits keep coming with another string of Top Ten songs, including “Run Away Child, Running Wild,” “Psychedelic Shack,” and “Ball of Confusion.” In all, this second classic line-up delivers three-consecutive #1 albums between February 1969 and March 1970, plus a #1 soundtrack album by Diana Ross and the Supremes with The Temptations, titled “TCB,” (Taking Care of Business). By now, the Temptations have, on their own, released a remarkable 11 #1 R&B albums, since the group’s inception. They also release an album, titled, Temptations Greatest Hits, Vol II, in September of 1970, that includes the final collection of David Ruffin-led singles and the first of Dennis Edwards’ songs.
In January of 1971, the single “Just My Imagination” hits the market and becomes a #1 success on both the Billboard Hot 100 Pop and R&B charts simultaneously. It goes on to become one of the group’s biggest hits ever. It is also the final Temptations recording for Eddie Kendricks, one of the lead vocalists of the group. The song is originally recorded on the bestselling album, Sky’s the Limit, that is released in April of 1971. That album becomes the final album featuring Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, who are original members of both the first and second classic line-ups.
By January 1972, when the album Solid Rock comes out, the line-up evolves into: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, Damon Harris and Richard Street. They, too, like the second classic line-up, record and release three, consecutive #1 albums: Solid Rock (January 11, 1972), All Directions (July 27, 1972), and Masterpiece (February 21, 1973). It is this line-up that produces their 4th and phenomenally bestselling, Billboard Hot 100 #1 Pop single, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” The song, which is originally recorded on the All Directions album, releases on July 27, 1972, and wins three Grammy Awards in 1973: “Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group,” awarded to the Temptations; “Best R&B Instrumental,” awarded to Norman Whitfield and arranger/conductor Paul Riser; and “Best R&B Song” awarded to Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong as the song’s composers. This incredible market success is followed by their 14th #1 R&B album, Masterpiece, that also features the group’s 11th #1 R&B single, “Masterpeice.” This is an incredibly successful period for the Temptations and showcases their new sound, which is less ballad-driven and more what becomes known as a psychedelic soul sound. Some of their lyrics reflect the themes and signs of the time: civil rights’ protests, cultural identity crises, war abroad and national protests, etc.
Their album, Anthology, releases in August of 1973, and thirty years later will be ranked one of “the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2003, and again in 2012. The Temptations are also the very first group awarded “Favorite R&B Vocal Group” at the inaugural American Music Award’s program in 1974. By 1975, The Temptations have recorded, A Song for You, another #1 R&B album, that wins the 1976 American Music Award for “Best R&B/Soul Album.” The album includes two wildly popular and bestselling #1 R&B songs, “Happy People,” (co-written by Lionel Richie) featuring The Commodores as instrumentalists, and “Shakey Ground” featuring instrumentals by Parliament-Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel with Billy “Bass” Nelson. This is the last album featuring Damon Harris, who replaced Eddie Kendricks. The 70’s decade reaffirms the Temptations’ place in history as entertainment giants.
Near the end of the 70’s, the group leaves Motown and joins Atlantic Records. They release two albums under their new label, but within a few years, they re-join Motown under a multi-album, multi-year deal.
The Temptations’ resilience is profound and singular. In the Eighties, the group, enjoys another huge wave of success that begins with the idea for a reunion tour with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. The Reunion tour unites David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks with the existing Temptations lineup of Dennis Edwards, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Richard Street and Glenn Leonard. The famous Reunion tour marks the first time Ruffin and Kendricks are back with the group in 14 years. The Reunion tour takes off in 1982 and Motown releases the Reunion album on April 7, 1982. The lead single “Standing on the Top” goes to #6 on the R&B chart with David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Dennis Edwards trading leads. The tour ends in November of the same year and the group goes back to its pre-Reunion tour line-up.
In February of 1983, Ron Tyson, one of the group’s current lead vocalists, joins the group. By May of 1983, the television anniversary special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, airs on NBC-TV, celebrating the label’s first quarter century. The extraordinary musical battle between the Temptations and The Four Tops is presented, with the two groups switching off between medleys of their respective hits. The incredible response from fans everywhere results in a road tour of the two groups, known as the “T ‘N T” tour. The two legendary groups still perform together today on their respective world tours.
Later in 1983, Ali-Ollie Woodson comes on board, replacing Dennis Edwards and the albums Truly for You, Touch Me and To Be Continued become Top 20 R&B hits, with Truly for You reaching #3 and To Be Continued #4 on the R&B charts. The single, “Treat Her Like Lady,” co-written by Otis Williams and co-produced by former Earth, Wind and Fire members, Al McKay and Ralph Johnson, reaches #2 on the R&B charts and #48 on the Pop charts. Their single, “Lady Soul” reaches #4 on the R&B charts.
Dennis Edwards returns to the group by 1987 and they release the album Together Again, featuring the #3 R&B hit single, “I Wonder Who She’s Seeing Now,” and “Look What You Started,” the group’s fifth “Top Ten” single of the 80’s decade.
In 1988, Otis Williams publishes his critically acclaimed autobiography, Temptations, with The New York Times bestselling author Patricia Romanowski. The book goes on to become the source for both the Emmy Award-Winning NBC-TV miniseries in 1998, and, in 2019, the smash hit Broadway Musical, “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations,” which wins the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography at the 73rd Tony Awards in New York City.
The Temptations are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January of 1989. Later in the year, Woodson returns, and the line-up becomes Otis Williams, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Ron Tyson, Melvin Franklin and Richard Street. The group releases the album Special, which features the huge hit single, “Special” becoming a “Top Ten” R&B hit as the group heads into the 90’s decade.
In the 1990’s, the Temptations enjoy many triumphs but also suffer many tragedies. It is a bittersweet decade for the group, especially for Otis Williams and manager, Shelly Berger, who have spent more than three decades together by now. The power of their human spirit to transcend setbacks and keep the group moving forward is awe-inspiring.
The group mourns the loss of several of its world-famous and beloved brothers, including, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Melvin Franklin in this decade.
To honor their memory and the long history of their unique and beloved voices, the group releases on September 20, 1994, Emperors of Soul, a five-disc collection that covers the group’s four-decade history and, in September of 1995, For Lovers Only, featuring the final two tracks with Melvin Franklin. It is also the final album featuring Ali-Ollie Woodson. Widely-praised by critics, the album becomes an instant classic. The group also releases the album Ultimate Collection toward the end of the decade.
As the 20th Century comes to a close, the Temptations send a message to the world that they, like their album title Phoenix Rising, will keep rising up and singing their way into the hearts of fans. The album, Phoenix Rising, released in 1998, featuring the debut of Terry Weeks, a lead vocalist for the group then and now, becomes the Temptations’ first platinum album in more than 20 years. It wins the Soul Train Music Award for “Best R&B Album by a Duo or Group” and the single, “Stay” is a “Top 30” R&B, single. Also, in 1998, Shelly Berger with Otis Williams and Suzanne de Passe, head of de Passe Entertainment, produce the television mini-series, Temptations, which is viewed by 45 million fans and goes on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Direction for a Miniseries or Movie” as well as the 1999 NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Television Movie or Miniseries.” Also, in 1998, “My Girl is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, followed by “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” in 1999. “The Temptations Walk” continues on into the 21st Century.
The Turn of the Century/2000 -2010
Having re-invented themselves many times before, the Temptations kick-off the 21st Century in spectacular fashion with a 2001 Grammy Award for “Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance” for their Top 20 R&B Album, Ear-Resistible on the Motown label, featuring songs, “I’m Here” and “Selfish Reasons.” Also in 2001, the group releases the album Awesome, their 45th album to reach the Billboard 200. They will go on to release several more albums in this decade, including Reflections in 2006, which receives a Grammy nomination. Also, in 2006 Otis Williams receives the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
In 2010 the Temptations release an album of original material called Still Here. Weeks later, the group mourns the loss of former leading vocalist, Ali-Ollie Woodson, who was with the group, on and off, for twelve years.
The Second Decade of 21st Century/2011-2021
In the second decade of the 21st Century, on February 9th, 2013, the Temptations receive a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. It is the group’s fourth Grammy.
Shortly thereafter, sadly, the group loses two more prominent former brothers, Damon Harris and Richard Street, within weeks of each other in February of 2013.
Later in the year, on August 17, 2013, the Temptations are inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. Four years later, on June 6, 2017, they are honored by the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame and given the “R&B Male Group of the 20th Century Award.” The award honors members of the group who contributed to the Temptations initial success, with special mention going to Otis Williams, David Ruffin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards and Elbridge “Al” Bryant. Otis Williams says at the time, “The Temptations still stand today, not in spite of those who left us, but because of them.”
In 2016, Willie Greene, Jr., the bass vocalist, joins the Temptations and remains with the group today.
In 2017, Billboard Magazine names The Temptations the “#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of All Time.”
By February of 2018, the world mourns the loss of Dennis Edwards. His soulful lead harmonies with the Temptations, on and off for more than 12 years. are remembered on many remarkable and award-winning songs that are among fan favorites to this day.
Later that Spring, the Temptations release a new album, All The Time, their first new album since 2010’s Still Here. Also, the Library of Congress announces the induction of the Temptations’ classic mega-hit, “My Girl” into the National Recording Registry.
On March 21, 2019, “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” a musical sourced from Otis Williams’ critically acclaimed autobiography, opens on Broadway at the Imperial Theater in New York. It goes on to receive the Tony Award for Best Choreography. Sergio Trujillo receives the award at the 73rd Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 9, 2019. Also in June, the producers of “Ain’t Too Proud” announce the national road tour of the musical to more than 50 cities in 100+ weeks. The tour will begin in July 2020 in Providence, Rhode Island.
The Temptations are inducted into the Apollo Theater’s “Walk of Fame.” Otis Williams receives a plaque marking the occasion on behalf of the legendary, classic five line-up, including Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and David Ruffin at the official ceremony on June 7th, 2019. Williams is also honored at the Apollo Theater’s 85th Anniversary Gala on June 10th, 2019.
In November of 2019, The Temptations appear on Billboard’s 125th Anniversary list of the “125 Greatest of All Time Artists,” in music. Also, within the same month, the original Broadway cast album for the smash hit Broadway Musical, “Ain’t Too Proud” is nominated for a Grammy Award in the “Best Musical Theater Album” category. The Grammy awards ceremony will be held in January of 2020. In addition, for the 2019 holiday season, Universal Music Enterprises (“UMe”), the Temptations current recording company, announces the release of a first-of-its-kind, animated video featuring the Temptations’ “Silent Night,” one of the most popular holiday songs of all time.
Widely-known as a “National Treasure” and entertainment superstars, the Temptations will mark their 60th Anniversary in 2020 and there is heightened excitement as the group plans an international tour, including shows in Britain in late October of 2020.
Otis Williams, the sole surviving original Temptation, Ron Tyson, a lead vocalist with the group for 37 years, Terry Weeks, a lead vocalist for 23 years, and Willie Greene, Jr., base vocalist with the group for four years, are still serenading fans with their soulful voices, lighting up stages with their famous Temptations’ Walk, and bringing joy to audiences of all ages.
Looking ahead to Christmas 2021, the Broadway Musical, “Ain’t Too Proud” will go back to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where it ran in previews.