Two important members of the second wave of the Temptations passed away within days of each other in February 2013, making it quite a difficult month for fans of the legendary Motown group.
Otis “Damon” Harris, who replaced Eddie Kendricks as first tenor and sang on many of the Temptations’ hits of the early 1970s, died Feb. 18, at age 62, of prostate cancer. Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 27, Richard Street, who replaced Paul Williams and was with the Tempts from 1971 to 1993, died of a blood clot in his lung. Prior to joining the Temptations, Street was the lead singer of Motown’s the Monitors as well as a member of the Distants, the group that evolved into the Temptations.
One of the most influential groups of the 1960s and 1970s, the Temptations brought the tradition of street-corner doo-wop to Motown and turned out hit after hit on Motown’s Gordy label. In addition to doo-wop, they covered many genres ranging from rock and roll to funk, disco, rhythm and blues, psychedelic soul, and adult contemporary. In a move designed to widen their audience, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. had the Tempts record “The Temptations In A Mellow Mood,” an album of show tunes and traditional pop standards. The success of that album gained them a greater crossover fan base and allowed them to work at the prestigious Copacabana in New York and other upscale supper clubs. The Temptations were also known for their intricate choreography, stylish clothes, distinctive harmonies, and use of a four-headed microphone that allowed them to roam about the stage for their dance routines and return to the mike without bumping into each other. Their songs “My Girl,” “I Can’t Get Next To You,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” and “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” all reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and they also saw 14 of their records top the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart.
In the early 1990s, the Temptations suffered a wave of deaths in their “Classic Five” lineup. In 1991, former lead singer David Ruffin died at age 50 of a drug overdose in Philadelphia. Kendricks, noted for his falsetto style of singing, died of lung cancer in 1992 at age 52, and Melvin Franklin, the bass singer, died from complications of diabetes in 1995, also at age 52. Decades earlier, original member Paul Williams died by way of suicide at age 34.
Over the years the Temptations have had many different lineups but have stuck to a winning format in both their song selections and their performances. In 1989 the Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But not all the members were included. Only the “Classic Five” of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams, along with Dennis Edwards, who replaced Ruffin as lead singer, were named to the Hall. That means Richard Street and Damon Harris were left out. But we will certainly take a moment to remember and honor Harris and Street upon their passing.
“Temptations,” Otis Williams and Patricia Romanowski, Cooper Square Press, 2002
“The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits,” Adam White and Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 1993
“The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, 5th Edition,” Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 2003