*Otis Williams, the sole survivor of the original line-up of The Temptations – Motown’s premier male vocal group that helped build a Black-American musical empire – is still going strong!
“I carry it on for them,” he says in reference (and with reverence) to his fallen brothers Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams. Without missing a beat he says he just got word the day before that Icon a recently released compilation CD of classic Temptations songs like “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination” just sold over one hundred thousand copies. He says no other group can boast the duration and adaptability of The Temptations who won Motown’s fist Grammy with the success of their recording “Cloud Nine.”
This year the Heroes and Legends (HAL) Awards Scholarship Foundation will be acknowledging The Temptations for their unending and tireless work extended over five decades in the music industry. Williams says when they signed the contract at Motown in May of 1961, he never in his wildest dreams thought it would go this far. After 50 years, the group is still touring, and their latest album Still Here says it all.
Along with Williams, the current Tempts line-up includes Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Joe Herndon, and Bruce Williamson.
The HAL Awards, founded by veteran Motown songwriter Janie Bradford who co-wrote such hits as “Money” and “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” has a twofold primary purpose; first, to help talented young people realize their lofty-but-attainable dreams of shaping careers for themselves in one of the many performing arts through scholarship funding; and second, to spotlight positive role models from many diverse backgrounds including leaders in the fields of music, theatre, motion pictures, and business each year. Additional honorees this year will be Bobby Womack, Ray Parker, Jay Brown, and Sonja Norwood among others.
“It’s a wonderful acknowledgement (for the group) says Williams. About 10 or 12 years ago I was recognized (by HAL) as the sole survivor, but it’s wonderful for the group to be acknowledged.”
Cornelius Grant who was The Temptations’ Music Director for nearly 20 years says of Williams: “For a person to have weathered such a storm and to have emerged in good health and still performing is amazing! It still does me proud to have been a part of such a stellar legacy. I still feel connected when I watch The Temptations mini-series, and their live stage performances, which include some of the songs I co-wrote for them.” It’s interesting to note that both Grant and Williams were born in Texas, but both consider Detroit as home.
As a world traveler and performer, Williams says he is humbled and grateful that The Temptations songs are recognized globally. He says “Music is boundless and colorless…we have gone to countries…like in Gdansk Poland they may not speak English, but they know ‘My Girl’ word for word. Those songs have taken on another life. When we walk out on stage we get a standing ovation, and it brings me to tears…blessings to God.”
Speaking on the downside of success, Williams says “We [the Tempts] made a promise we would not let success ruin us…like Frankie Lymon, The Cadillacs, and others. We shot ourselves in the foot, but we were young and we made mistakes.”
Williams gives a lot of credit to songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield for musically retooling and redirecting The Temptations musically after Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards in 1968. They garnered another Grammy in the early ’70’s with the blockbuster “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
About Detroit he says, “We played there about three weeks ago, and I was hurt by what they had done to my city. I still call it ‘my city’. Although I was born in Texas, Detroit was my home. Detroit was a beautiful city of about two million people. Now it’s about seven or eight hundred thousand.” He says early Motown songs used to go perfectly with the seasons there in Detroit. He recalls recording the album “Christmas Card” that contained their phenomenal version of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (among others) in the Spring, and when it was released in time for Christmas “it was magical!”
Williams says he’s been somewhat of a wordsmith since age 15. He’s known for such one-liner words of wisdom like “You cannot use yourself as a yardstick to measure yourself by” and “It’ll do in a rush, but who’s in a rush?” He plans to collect all of his writings and sayings in a book someday.
Motown founder Berry Gordy is currently working on a Broadway play about the Motown story. Williams says there is a possibility in perhaps a couple years or so, that Mr. Gordy may produce a play on the life story of The Temptations. We’ll stay tuned for that.
On the Temptations.com website Williams says, “Our challenge is to live in the present while respecting the past. Our past is filled with riches that only a fool would discard. At the same time we thrive on competition. As a Motowner, I grew up in the most competitive musical environment imaginable. But we also understand that for a group with history, no matter how glorious that history might be, reinvention is the name of the game.”
The HAL Awards festivities will take place from September 23rd – 25th 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. For more information please contact the foundation at (310) 274-1609, or send an e-mail to [email protected]. A list of past honorees may be found on the internet.
Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) www.amazon.com. Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at www.editorialbylarry.com. (213) 220-8101