By Chris Rizik, Soul Tracks | June 1, 2020 marked the 29th anniversary of the death of the great David Ruffin. Certainly one of the greatest Soul singers of all time, David Ruffin was an enigmatic man whose own internal struggles and contradictions led to a tumultuous career, both as the lead vocalist of the Temptations and subsequently as a solo singer. But even years after his death, he remains a larger than life figure in the Soul music world, and a once-in-a-generation voice.

Ruffin was born in Mississippi in 1941 and first recorded as part of the traditional Gospel group the Dixie Nightingales. He moved to Detroit to become part of the burgeoning Soul Music scene of the early 60s. There Ruffin recorded a few solo singles, but real opportunity came when a popular local group, the Temptations, was looking for a tenor to replace departing singer Eldridge Bryant. While the Tempts had had limited success with early Motown releases, Ruffin’s arrival in 1964 coincided with the group’s explosive emergence.

During the period 1965-68, the Temptations became the biggest Soul group in the world, and Ruffin’s star correspondingly grew. His gruff, impassioned lead vocals on dozens of songs including “My Girl,” “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep” and especially the electric “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” were unparalleled, and provided a gritty soulfulness over the slick Motown arrangements. However, Ruffin’s ego reportedly also increased dramatically during this period, and his spotty work ethic and demand for top billing in the group led to his “firing” soon after 1968’s Wish It Would Rain album.

Ruffin was devastated by his dismissal, as the anchor that the group provided for him was gone, and he began a personal roller coaster of financial trouble and drug addiction that would continue until his death. Ruffin began his solo career strongly in 1969 with “My Whole World Ended,” taking both the single and accompanying album to the top of the Soul charts and the Pop top 10.

The uptempo follow up single, “I’ve Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved,” was also a gem, but began a slow five year descent on the Soul charts. He released I Am My Brother’s Keeper, a duet album with his brother Jimmy (who had scored earlier on Motown with “What Becomes of a Brokenhearted”), and recorded additional discs with the help of Johnny Bristol and Van McCoy, but didn’t chart again big until his 1975 hustle dance cut, “Walk Away From Love.” It was another great performance and paved the way for the equally satisfying 1976 hit, “Everything’s Coming Up Love.”
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Our sincere thanks to Terry Minggia for contributing this story.

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