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The Temptations: Biography, Albums & Songs

Instructor: Jennifer Keefe

Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.

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. 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 on Ed Sullivan 1969

The Temptations appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969, a pinnacle event in the careers of many 1960s musical acts. They hit number one on the R&B Music Chart with Just My Imagination, a ballad sung by Kendricks just before he left the band. By this time, the music industry had changed once again, and bands were expected to produce long-playing albums instead of just individual hits. The Temptations responded with Masterpiece in 1973, A Song for You in 1975, and The Temptations Do the Temptations in 1976. The Reunion album of 1982 found Ruffin and Kendricks rejoining the group. They even took part in a vocal showdown with another 1960s Motown group, The Four Tops, in 1983 during a televised celebration of Motown's 25th anniversary. They also performed at the Summertime Jazz & Blues & World Music Festival in 1991.

The Temptations performing at the Summertime Jazz & Blues & World Music Festival in 1991.
The Temptations in 1991

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