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You know the songs ”My Girl” and ”Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, but do you know the story behind the legendary group that recorded them? In this lesson, learn about The Temptations. Then, take a quiz to test your knowledge.

Biography of the Band

The 1960s seem like a long time ago, but even today the music of that era still resonates. Chances are you know more songs from that decade than you think. One of the most legendary musical groups to come from the 1960s is The Temptations.The members of The Temptations came from two separate Detroit-area singing groups.

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Original members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams came from a vocal group called the Primes, and Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Elbridge Bryant were part of the Distants. The Distants had two other members who quit the group, and that’s when Kendricks and Williams joined them. The newly-formed quintet auditioned for Motown record label founder Berry Gordy, and became an instant hit, prompting him to create a new branch of the Motown studios just for them.By 1962, The Temptations had their first hit on the R&B Music Chart, hitting number 22 with (You’re My) Dream Come True.

In 1963, David Ruffin replaced Elbridge Bryant, changing the sound of the group. In 1964, The Temptations broke into the Top Twenty on the R;B Chart with The Way You Do the Things You Do, which was written by Smokey Robinson. By the mid-1960s, the Temptations ruled the charts with My Girl, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, and I Wish It Would Rain. One interesting fact about the group was that they always considered themselves to have five lead singers instead of just one frontman. This allowed them to vary their style of music over the years.

Bring on the Funk

In 1968, the band changed again, with David Ruffin leaving and Dennis Edwards, who sang for The Contours, stepping in.

The Temptations turned to a sound that found its influence in the rising drug culture of the era. Finding inspiration from Sly and the Family Stone, another 1960s musical group known for its groove style, The Temptations found their greatest success in the late 1960s and early 1970s with funk-style hits such as Cloud Nine, I Can’t Get Next to You, and Papa Was a Rolling Stone, all written by songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield. The funk style was a combination of Soul, Jazz, Rhythm, and Blues.

The Temptations perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. Left to Right: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and Dennis Edwards
The Temptations performing at the Summertime Jazz & Blues & World Music Festival in 1991.
The Temptations in 1991

Tragedy and Triumph

The death of Paul Williams in 1971 was just the first tragedy to strike the band. In 1991, David Ruffin died after years of issues with substance abuse. Lung cancer claimed the life of Eddie Kendricks in 1992, and in 1995 Melvin Franklin died after having a brain seizure. The only remaining original member of the group, Otis Williams, continued to perform the group’s hits.

In The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, which was published in 2001, Rolling Stone Magazine called The Temptations ‘the most consistently successful and critically lauded male vocal group in rock history’. The group celebrated its 54th year in music in 2015. Current members include Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, and Bruce Williamson.Although the band has not released an album since the 1998 Phoenix Rising, members have performed numerous times on television, including a 2012 appearance on Dancing with the Stars.

Known for their classy suits and choreography, The Temptations also created a legacy of dance moves on stage. They are known to have influenced The Jackson 5, Daryl Hall ; John Oates, and many other musical acts. The Temptations were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2013 they received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lesson Summary

In 1961, the music industry changed when The Temptations were signed to the Motown record label by its founder Berry Gordy.

Over the past 54 years, the musical quintet created such hits as My Girl and Papa Was a Rolling Stone, demonstrating that a band with five lead vocalists could create music with a variety of sounds. The band had many members over the years, but the only founding member to remain is Otis Williams, who continues the legacy of The Temptations. Members of the group appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2012, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

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