Born January 18, 1941, in Meridian, MS; died of a drug overdose, June 1, 1991, in Philadelphia, PA; son of a Baptist preacher. Began singing career with the gospel group, the Dixie Nightingales; first signed with Anna Records; joined the Temptations, alternating as lead vocalist, 1964-68; left Temptations in 1968 to pursue a solo career; rejoined the Temptations in 1982 for a reunion tour; reunited with original Temptation member Eddie Kendricks in 1984.
David Ruffin made his sterling musical reputation as the lead singer for the Temptations on such smash 1960s hits as "My Girl," "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep," "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," and "I Wish It Would Rain." The Temptations scored large hits in 1967 and 1968 with Ruffin leading the way, propelling him toward a solo career with Motown records that began in 1969 and lasted throughout most of the 1970s. During the 1980s, Ruffin teamed up with former Temptations Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards. Ruffin and Kendricks performed with Hall & Oates at the renovated Apollo Theatre in Harlem, then at the Live Aid concert for African famine victims and on the anti-apartheid record Sun City. Ruffin, Kendricks, and Edwards had just returned from a month-long tour of England when Ruffin died from a drug overdose on June 1, 1991.
David Ruffin was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on January 18, 1941, and was the younger brother of singer Jimmy Ruffin, who is perhaps best remembered for his hit, "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted." The Ruffin family moved to Detroit in the 1940s, and during the late 1950s David Ruffin gained acclaim in Detroit as a solo performer. The Ruffin brothers lived near Temptation member Otis Williams and would engage in singing competitions at Williams's house. Ruffin began his professional career under the tutelage of producers Harvey Fuqua and Berry Gordy at Anna Records, a Detroit company. Ruffin's first solo release was "I'm In Love/One Of These Days," For the Anna label. He followed this up with two singles on another Detroit-based label, Check-Mate, that were written by noted rhythm and blues composer Billy Davis.
Although Ruffin possessed the ability to remain a solo artist, he ventured into other areas of the music industry. He found an opportunity with Motown's premier male vocal group, the Temptations. Although the group had released six singles by the mid-1960s, none had earned substantial success. Rumors began that Motown executive Berry Gordy was looking for a new lead singer for the group, and Ruffin capitalized on his past association with the Gordys while earning the position. Otis Williams, an original member of the Temptations, described Ruffin's audition in which the performer jumped onstage at one of the Temptations shows to the delight of the audience. Ruffin used a trick he would often perform: he threw the microphone into the air, caught it, and fell down into full splits.
The group realized immediate success with the first single Ruffin appeared on, "The Way You Do The Things You Do." The song became a national hit and climbed to number eleven on the charts. Eddie Kendricks sang lead on that Smokey Robinson song, and for the next five years Ruffin and Kendricks would alternate lead vocals for the Temptations. Smokey Robinson's writing and producing as well as the vocals by Kendricks and Ruffin contributed to the group's string of hits. Ruffin's "My Girl," which peaked at number one, stayed on the pop charts for the first three months of 1965. The next year Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland teamed up to pen such hits for Ruffin and the Temptations as "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep," "(I Know) I'm Losing You," and "I Wish It Would Rain."
Despite the Temptations's stellar accomplishments, Ruffin's craved greater recognition. As the group became more popular, Ruffin distanced himself from the other members--he rode in his own mink-lined limousine. In addition, by 1968, many of Motown's groups had been renamed to include the names of the lead singers. So it was perhaps natural that Ruffin was pushing for David Ruffin and the Temptations, but it was not to be. Some critics have suggested that during this period of soaring popularity Ruffin became dependent on the drugs that ultimately led to his death.
Ruffin left the Temptations in 1968 to pursue a solo career. His first solo release, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," was a top ten pop hit. However, the follow-up bombed, and he would not have another top ten solo hit until late 1975 with "Walk Away From Love." Two follow-up singles, "Heavy Love" and "Everything Is Coming Up Love" reached the top ten on the rhythm and blues charts in 1976, but failed to achieve any crossover support on the pop charts.
After releasing two solo albums in 1969, Ruffin teamed with his brother Jimmy for the Ben E. King hit "Stand By Me," one of two singles Motown released from the album I Am My Brother's Keeper in 1970. It was the only album the two would record together. Motown released one album per year for Ruffin during the 1970s until the singer left the label for Warner Brothers. Ruffin produced two albums during his tenure at Warner Brothers. In 1982 Ruffin rejoined the Temptations for their reunion tour and album. Following the tour, Ruffin stopped performing for three years, living in southeastern Michigan on his horse farm. He also served four and one-half months in a low-security prison for failure to pay taxes.
Another turning point in Ruffin's career came at the end of 1984, when he attended a New Year's Eve show featuring Eddie Kendricks and Mary Wilson of the Supremes. Kendricks invited Ruffin up to the stage to perform, instigating a successful reunion of the two former lead singers of the Temptations. In May of 1985, Daryl Hall and John Oates invited Ruffin and Kendricks to join them at a benefit concert for the United Negro College Fund in Harlem's newly renovated Apollo Theatre benefit--a reunion that spawned a single and album. Later that year, Ruffin and Kendricks appeared in Philadelphia as part of the Live Aid concert and also performed on the anti-apartheid album Sun City. Ruffin and Kendricks continued to work on material for Hall & Oates' Empire label, and in 1988 RCA released an album entitled Ruffin and Kendrick-- Kendrick had dropped the s from his name. The album featured new material that showed off the singers' smooth, soulful style.
By 1989, Ruffin, Kendrick, and former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards were performing together regularly. They had just returned from a month-long tour of England in May of 1991 when Ruffin suddenly died in Philadelphia from an apparent reaction to cocaine. Although Ruffin's drug use allegedly dated back to the 1960s, he was never arrested on drug charges until he was picked up in a 1987 Detroit drug raid. In 1988, he was found guilty of using cocaine and sentenced to two years probation on the condition he undergo drug rehabilitation and perform community service by singing and giving concerts. By the end of 1989, he was back in court for violating his probation, and at that time he admitted he was still using cocaine.
Ruffin's funeral was held at the Swanson Funeral Home with services at Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church. Pop star Michael Jackson paid for the funeral, and numerous celebrities attended, including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson, and members of the Temptations, the Four Tops, and the Miracles. At the service Stevie Wonder told the audience: "We're confronted with a problem that touches every one of us. We're confronted with the most devastating slave owner of all times." The Reverand Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, told the mournful audience, "In David there is a lesson. We should not clap our hands and mourn, for he is out of trouble now. You are still in it."
by David Bianco
David Ruffin's Career
- "I'm In Love," Anna, 1961.
- "Action Speaks Louder Than Words," Check-Mate, 1961.
- "Knock You Out," Check-Mate, 1962.
- "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left)," Motown, 1969.
- "I've Lost Everything I've Ever Loved," Motown, 1969.
- "I'm So Glad I Fell For You," Motown, 1969.
- (By David and Jimmy Ruffin) "Stand By Me, Soul," 1970.
- (By David and Jimmy Ruffin) "When My Love Hand Comes Down," Soul, 1971.
- "Don't Stop Loving Me," Motown, 1971.
- "You Can Come Right Back To Me," Motown, 1971.
- "A Little More Trust," Motown, 1972.
- "Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can)," Motown, 1973.
- "Common Man," Motown, 1973.
- "Me And Rock 'n' Roll (Are Here To Stay)," Motown, 1974.
- "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)," Motown, 1975.
- "Walk Away From Love," Motown, 1975.
- "Heavy Love," Motown, 1976.
- "Everything's Coming Up Love," Motown, 1976.
- "On And Off," Motown, 1976.
- "Just Let Me Hold You For A Night," Motown, 1977.
- "You're My Peace Of Mind," Motown, 1978.
- "Break My Heart," Warner, 1979.
- "I Get Excited," Warner, 1979.
- "Slow Dance," Warner, 1980.
- "Still In Love With You," Warner, 1980.
- (By Daryl Hall and John Oates featuring David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick) "A Nite At The Apollo Live! The Way You Do The Things You Do/My Girl," RCA, 1985.
- (By Ruffin and Kendrick) "I Couldn't Believe It," RCA, 1987.
- (By Ruffin and Kendrick) "One More For The Lonely Hearts Club," RCA, 1988.
- My Whole World Ended, Motown, 1969.
- Feelin' Good, Motown, 1969.
- (As The Ruffin Brothers) I Am My Brother's Keeper, Soul, 1970, David Ruffin, Motown, 1973.
- Me And Rock 'n' Roll Are Here To Stay, Motown, 1974.
- Who I Am, Motown, 1975.
- Everything's Coming Up Love, Motown, 1976.
- In My Stride, Motown, 1977.
- At His Best, Motown, 1978.
- So Soon We Change, Warner, 1979.
- Gentleman Ruffin, Warner, 1980.
- (By Hall & Oates) Live At The Apollo With David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, RCA, 1985.
- (By Ruffin and Kendrick) Ruffin and Kendrick, RCA, 1988.
- At His Best, Motown, 1991.
- Bianco, David, Heat Wave: The Motown Fact Book, Pierian, 1988.
- Williams, Otis, and Patricia Romanowski, Temptations, Putnam, 1988.
- Detroit Free Press, June 2, 1991; June 3, 1991; June 11, 1991.
- Detroit News, October 2, 1989; June 2, 1991; June 3, 1991; June 11, 1991.