As I watched the story of David Ruffin’s life, I realized I wasn’t all that familiar with The Temptations nor was I a huge fan. Yes, I like such songs as My Girl¸ Just My Imagination and Get Ready, but liking a few songs hardly qualifies me to say I’m a fan.
Yes, I’ve seen The Temptations movie, but I’m sure there were some elements of the story that were embellished.
The Temptations are my mother’s generation’s music. She still sings along (and knows ALL the words) anytime one of their songs comes on her stereo. Me? I just listen to the group’s harmony and groove to the catchy beats.
Still, I was fascinated watching the story of a man who begged to join a group that was already well established before he came along.
While the group wasn’t in need of a sixth member when David asked to join, he soon received his chance after a fight between original members Al Bryant and Paul Williams resulted in Al being fired.
One could say the addition of David provided an infusion of energy. While they had moderate success before the lineup change, with David singing lead, the group finally achieved something that has previously alluded them – a top 10 single.
My Girl (on which David sings lead and was written by Smokey Robinson and his band mate Ronnie White) turned out to be the group’s first number one pop hit, and is probably the one song most associated with The Temptations.
Unfortunately, success would eventually be the demise of David Ruffin remaining a member of The Temptations (he thought the group should be renamed David Ruffin & The Temptations, like Diana Ross & The Supremes). He was ultimately replaced in 1968 after a four-year run.
Trying his hand at a solo career, David had modest success, but never came close to the stardom he achieved with The Temptations.
Usually when a person of David’s caliber dies as tragically as he did, the focus generally turns to the negatives instead of the impact their talent had on others. For David, it was him dying of a crack cocaine overdose.
It was clear from this episode of Unsung that those who knew him best wanted the world to know there was much more to David Ruffin the world was unaware of, and crack was simply something that happened to take his life.
Some things I was unaware of:
- David’s brother Jimmy also wanted to join The Temptations, but according to original member Otis Williams, Jimmy had “bad feet and couldn’t dance.”
- One of the first to challenge Berry Gordy’s handling of the money, David sued Motown in 1968 to be released from his contract. He lost.
- He rarely talked about his childhood, but his older half-brother, Quincy wrote a book in 1989 detailing the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father. While David Sr. was a well-known preacher, he severely abused his kids mentally, emotionally and physically.
- Survived by four children (Cheryl, Nedra and David Ruffin, Jr., and Kimberly Ruffin-Jones), David was married twice, and was described by his children as a fun-loving father who “enjoyed who he was. He embraced it, he loved it, he practiced it,” said David Jr.
Note: Unsung is a music biography series on TV One that recaps the life of some of music’s forgotten artist who are, “Uncompromised, unrecognized, unparalleled, unsung.”
In its fourth season, the show airs Mondays nights at 7 p.m. PST. Artists previously featured include DeBarge, Big Daddy Kane, Minnie Riperton, Teddy Pendergrass, Donny Hathaway and The O’Jays.
Catch Unsung: The Story of Whodini tonight, March 12 at 7 p.m. PST. You also can catch the re-run at 10 p.m. PST.