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David Ruffin (January 18, 1941 – June 1, 1991) was an American soul singer most famous for his work as one of the lead singers of The Temptations from 1964 to 1968 (or the group's "Classic Five" period as it was later known). His was the lead voice on such famous songs as "My Girl" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Known for his unique raspy and anguished tenor vocals, Ruffin was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2008. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker in 1989 for his work with the Temptations. Fellow Motown recording artist Marvin Gaye once said admiringly of Ruffin that, "I heard in [his voice] a strength my own voice lacked."

Early years and career

David was born Davis Eli Ruffin on January 18, 1941 in the rural unincorporated community of Whynot, Mississippi, the son of Eli, a Baptist minister, and Ophelia Ruffin (née Davis). His father was strict and at times violently abusive. Ruffin's mother died just months after his birth and his father remarried a schoolteacher, Earline, in 1942. As a young child, Ruffin, along with his other siblings (older brothers Quincy and Jimmy, and sister Rita Mae), traveled with their father and their stepmother as a family gospel group opening shows for Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi among others. He also had an older sister Rosetta who died as a child and a half-brother Calvin. Ruffin sang in the choir at Mount Salem Methodist Church, talent shows, and wherever else he could. In 1955, at the age of fourteen, he left home under the guardianship of a minister and went to Memphismarker with the purpose of pursuing the ministry.

At age 15, Ruffin went to Hot Springs, Arkansasmarker with the jazz musician Phineas Newborn, Sr. There they played at the Fifty Grand Ballroom and Casino. Ruffin continued to sing at talent shows, worked with horses at a jockey club and eventually became a member of the The Dixie Nightingales. He also sang with the Soul Stirrers briefly after the departure of Johnnie Taylor. It was in Ruffin's travels as a teenager that he met such later popular personalities as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Bobby Womack, The Staple Singers, The Swan Silvertones and the Dixie Hummingbirds.

After some of his singing idols like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson had left gospel music and gone secular, Ruffin also turned in that direction. He met and came under the guardianship of Eddie Bush and Dorothy Helen who took David to Detroit, Michiganmarker and introduced him to Gwen Gordy Fuqua, Berry Gordy's sister and Billy Davis. Asked about Ruffin in the Detroit Free Press in 1988, Gordy Fuqua said, "He was very much a gentleman, yes ma'am and no ma'am, but the thing that really impressed me about David was that he was one of the only artists I've seen who rehearsed like he was on stage." In Detroit, his brother Jimmy Ruffin was pursuing a career in music while working at the Ford Motor Company. Jimmy landed a deal with Miracle Records, one of several labels owned by Berry Gordy's Tamla (later Motown) Records. On the StreetGold video Ruffin explained how he went to Detroit and began to record a different kind of music. He said that he met Berry Gordy in 1957. Ruffin stated that Marvin Gaye and he used to pack records for Anna Records, which was a Chess-distributed label formed in 1958 by Gordy Fuqua and Billy Davis, and that he at one time lived with Berry Gordy’s father (who was a contractor) and worked with him in the building construction of Motown.

Early career

Strongly inspired by pop/r&b music of the time, Ruffin recorded his first released record with the songs titled "You and I" (1958) and "Believe me" (1958), "You and I" a melodic ballad with a 17-years old Ruffin as he conveys a young man wanting he and his dream girl to be a pair, and the B-side "Believe me" which was more of an up tempo song. These songs were recorded at VEGA Records and released under the name "Little David Bush", using the last name of the man he had met previously, Eddie Bush. Ruffin eventually started recording at Anna Records, and recorded the song "One of These Days" (1961), and the song "I'm in Love" (1961), with The Voice Masters, which included future Motown producer Lamont Dozier and members of the singing group The Originals (and, at one time, it also had another future Temptations member, Melvin Franklin, David's distant cousin). Later Billy Davis formed Check-Mate Records taking Ruffin with him. While there he recorded the songs "You Can Get What I Got" (1961) and "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" (1961). Though Ruffin's name is on the label, The Voice Masters provide backup. He then recorded the songs, "Mr. Bus Driver, Hurry" (1962), a minor local hit, and "Knock You Out With Love" (1962).

Ruffin eventually met an up and coming local group by the name of the Temptations. His olderbrother Jimmy Ruffin went on a Motortown Revue tour with the Temptations, and he told David that they needed someone to sing tenor in their group. Ruffin showed interest in joining the group to Otis Williams whom he lived very close to in Detroit. In January 1964, Ruffin became a member of The Temptations after founding member Elbridge "Al" Bryant was fired from the group (Ruffin's first recording session with the group was January 9, 1964). Though both David and his brother Jimmy Ruffin were considered, David was given an edge over Jimmy thanks to his performance skills, which David displayed when he joined the Temptations on-stage during a local Detroit performance earlier in 1963.

With the Temptations

The bespectacled Ruffin initially sang backgrounds, while the role of lead singer mostly alternated between Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. He did sing a few lead parts both on stage and in the studio during his first year with the group, but his leads on these studio tracks would not be released for over a year, as they were considered not good enough to showcase Ruffin's vocals. Songwriter/Producer Smokey Robinson saw Ruffin during this period as a "sleeping giant" in the group with a unique voice that was, "mellow," yet, "gruff." Robinson thought that if he could write just the perfect song for Ruffin's voice, then he could have a smash hit. The song was to be something that Ruffin could "belt out" yet something that was also "melodic and sweet". That song, "My Girl" recorded in November 1964 and released a month later, became the group's first #1 single and its signature song and elevated Ruffin to the role of lead singer and front man.

The follow-ups to "My Girl" were also extremely successful singles, including "It's Growing" (1965), "Since I Lost My Baby" (1965), "My Baby" (1965), "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (1966), "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" (1966), " I'm Losing You" (1966), "All I Need" (1967), " It's You That I Need" (1967), "I Wish It Would Rain" (1967), and "I Could Never Love Another " (1968). Ruffin also shared lead vocals on the 1967 hit single "You're My Everything" with Eddie Kendricks. The tall, 6'3", Ruffin's passionate and dramatic performances endeared him to the Temptations' audiences and fans. According to Otis Williams, Ruffin (playfully nicknamed "Ruff" by the group) was initially a natural comedian and a hard-working singer when he first joined the group. Ruffin's most notable non-vocal contribution to the Temptations was the masterminding of their trademark four-headed microphone stand.

By 1967, however, ego problems with Ruffin became an issue for the group. He became addicted to cocaine and began missing rehearsals and performances. Refusing to travel with the other Temptations, Ruffin and his then-girlfriend Tammi Terrell traveled in a custom limo (with the image of his trademark black rimmed glasses painted on the door). After The Supremes had their name changed to Diana Ross & the Supremes in early 1967, Ruffin felt that he should become the focal point of the Temptations, just as Diana Ross was for her group and began demanding that the group name be changed to David Ruffin & the Temptations. This led to a number of fights between Ruffin and the group's de facto leader, Otis Williams. In addition to the group's problems with Ruffin's ego, he began inquiring into the Temptations' financial records, demanding an accounting of the group's money. This caused friction between Ruffin and Gordy.

In mid-1968, the Temptations agreed that Ruffin had finally crossed the line when he missed a 1968 concert, to instead attend a concert being performed by his new girlfriend, Barbara Martin. Ruffin was replaced with former Contour Dennis Edwards, who had been a friend of Ruffin and the group as a whole, beforehand. Despondent that he had been fired from the group that he felt he had single-handedly brought to success, Ruffin began turning up at and crashing Temptations' concerts. When the group started to perform a Ruffin-era song such as "My Girl" or "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", Ruffin himself would suddenly walk on to the stage, take the microphone from Edwards' hands, and steal the show, embarrassing the band but delighting the fans. The Temptations resorted to hiring extra security to prevent Ruffin from attending their shows.

Meanwhile, Ruffin filed suit against Motown Records, seeking a release from the label and an accounting of his money. Motown countersued to keep the singer from leaving the label and eventually the case was settled. The settlement required Ruffin to remain with Motown to finish out his initial contract (Ruffin joined Motown as a solo artist and always had a separate contract from the other Temptations, which some felt caused a lot of the in-fighting within the group).

Complete lead vocals with The Temptations

All Recorded in 1964-65

"My Girl" (Robinson, Ronald White)

"You'll Lose a Precious Love" (Robinson) - Recorded on March 2, 1964, it's the first lead Ruffin recorded with the group.

"It's Growing" (Robinson, Warren Moore)

"Who's Lovin' You" (Robinson)

"You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (Robinson) - Ruffin and Paul Williams sings "the unison harmony co-lead vocal" with Eddie Kendricks

All Recorded in 1964-65

"Since I Lost My Baby" (Robinson, Moore)

"My Baby" (Robinson, Moore, Robert Rogers)

"Born to Love You" (Ivy Jo Hunter, William "Mickey" Stevenson) - shared with Eddie Kendricks

"You're the One I Need" (Robinson) - Ruffin sings the bridge with Paul Williams while Kendricks leads the rest of the song

All Recorded in 1965-66

"Say You" (Charles Jones, Robert Dobyne, Robert Staunton)

"Little Miss Sweetness" (Robinson)

"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (Edward Holland, Jr., Norman Whitfield)

"Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" (recorded in 1966) (E. Holland, Whitfield)

Recorded at The Roostertail's Upper Deck, Detroit, Michiganmarker on October 3, 1966

"Yesterday"/"What Now My Love" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Gilbert Bécaud, Pierre Delanoë, Carl Sigman) - Ruffin does a soulful rendition of McCartney's "Yesterday". He also sings Bécaud's "What Now My Love" with Melvin Franklin doing speaking parts in French.

All recorded in 1966-67

" I'm Losing You" (Cornelius Grant, E. Holland, Whitfield)

"Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone" (Grant, Sylvia Moy, Whitfield)

"All I Need" (Frank Wilson, E. Holland, R. Dean Taylor)

" It's You That I Need" (E. Holland, Whitfield)

"Just One Last Look" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)

"Sorry is a Sorry Word" (E. Holland, Hunter)

"You're My Everything (Roger Penzabene, Grant, Whitfield) - shared with Eddie Kendricks

"Now That You've Won Me" (Robinson)

All recorded in 1967

"Hello, Young Lovers" (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II) - vocal ensemble; Ruffin has brief solos

"Somewhere" (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim)

"I'm Ready for Love" (Holland-Dozier-Holland)

"What Now My Love" (Bécaud, Delanoë, Sigman)

"The Impossible Dream" (Joe Darion, Mitch Leigh)

All Recorded in 1967-68

"I Could Never Love Another " (Penzabene, Barrett Strong, Whitfield)

"Cindy" (Robinson)

"I Wish It Would Rain" (Penzabene, Strong, Whitfield)

"Fan the Flame" (Al Cleveland, Terry "Buzzy" Johnson, Robinson)

"He Who Picks a Rose" (E. Holland, Emilio "Father" Smiley, Whitfield)

"Why Did You Leave Me Darling" (James Dean, Deke Richards)

"I've Passed This Way Before" (Dean, William Weatherspoon)

"I Got Heaven Right Here on Earth" (recorded in 1966) (Eddie Kendricks, E. Holland)

"Angel Doll" (recorded in 1967) (Morris Broadnax, Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder)

"What Am I Gonna Do Without You" (recorded in 1966) (Hunter, Wonder)

"Love Is What You Make It" (Robinson)

"I Know She's Not a Mannequin" (John Bristol, Shena Dermell, Harvey Fuqua)

"Only a Lonely Man Would Know" (Hunter, Beatrice Verdi)

"That'll Be The Day" (recorded in 1965) (Henry Cosby, Moy, Stevenson)

"We'll Be Satisfied" (recorded in 1967) (Marc Gordon, F. Wilson) - shared with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Wiliams

Solo years, personal problems, and death

Ruffin's first solo single was a song originally intended for the Temptations, "My Whole World Ended ". The single from the album entitled My Whole World Ended was released in 1969 followed soon by the album Feelin' Good. The single reached the US Pop & R&B "Top Ten." A third album was recorded in 1970-71, but was shelved by Motown and didn't see a commercial release until 2004; his next official release for Motown did not arrive until 1973, when David Ruffin was released. His final "Top Ten" hit was 1975's "Walk Away From Love", produced by Van McCoy, which reached #9 on the pop chart. Other notable recordings from Ruffin's solo career include the gospel-inflected "World of Darkness" (1969) and "I'm So Glad I Feel For You" (1970), "I Let Love Slip Away" (1969), "Common Man" (1973), which was sampled on the Jay-Z song "Never Change" (2001), "No Matter Where" (1974), "Statue Of A Fool" (1975),and famous cover versions of Ashford and Simpson's "What You Gave Me (1969), Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia" (1969, unreleased at the time) popularized by Brook Benton, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "I Miss You (Pt. 1)" (1973). In 1971, Ruffin recorded an album with his brother Jimmy, for which they did a popular cover of the Ben E. King song, "Stand By Me," and the Jackson Five song "I Want You Back." While his solo career initially showed promise, Ruffin reportedly went into decline in part because of his cocaine addiction and the lack of support from Motown. After leaving Motown in 1977, Ruffin recorded for Warner Bros. Records releasing the albums So Soon We Change (1979) and Gentleman Ruffin (1980), and later signed with RCA, accompanied by former Temptations bandmate Eddie Kendrick, who chose to rekindle their friendship when Kendrick himself started experiencing problems with the Temptations. In 1982, Ruffin joined The Temptations' Reunion tour and recorded smash hits Superfreak and Standing on The Top with Rick James. In 1985, Ruffin started touring with Kendrick as a duo act.

In 1982, Ruffin was sentenced to six months in a low-security prison in Terre Haute, Indianamarker, for failing to pay taxes during the mid-1970s. On May 19, 1986, he pleaded no contest to a charge of receiving and concealing stolen property worth less than $100 (a Colt .32-caliber handgun) and was fined $50 plus $100 in court costs. Charges of assault and battery and receiving stolen property worth more than $100 were dropped. A 1987 cocaine arrest landed him in jail for repeated parole violations. He was convicted in May 1988 of misdemeanor possession of cocaine.

In 1985, longtime Temptations fans Hall & Oates teamed up with Ruffin and Kendrick to perform at the re-opening of the Apollo Theatermarker in New York. Their performance was released as a relatively successful live album and single. The four singers also sang a medley of Temptations hits at Live Aid on July 13, 1985. John Oates later wrote a minor hit single for Ruffin and Kendrick, but the two duos fell out, allegedly due to Daryl Hall's objections to Ruffin's heavy drug use. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker, in 1989, with the other Temptations, Ruffin, Kendrick and Dennis Edwards began touring and recording as "Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards: Former Leads of The Temptations". After a successful month-long tour of England with Kendrick and Edwards, Ruffin collapsed on June 1, 1991 in a Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker crack house after sharing ten vials with a friend in under half an hour. Although the cause of death was ruled an accidental overdose of crack cocaine, Ruffin's family and friends suspected foul play, claiming that a money belt containing the proceeds from the tour ($40,000) was missing from his body. He had just finished recording the single, "Hurt the One You Love," for Motorcity Records.

Contrary to what was later depicted in, The Temptations television miniseries, Ruffin's body was not randomly found in the middle of the street, nor did it lie unclaimed in a morgue for over a week. Instead, Ruffin's chauffeur drove him to the hospital, identifying him as "David Ruffin of the Temptations." A few days later, Ruffin's children claimed his body.

Ruffin was portrayed by actor Leon Robinson in the 1998 television miniseries, The Temptations. Leon won high praise for his portrayal of Ruffin, but Ruffin's family was upset by the way the miniseries portrayed Ruffin and filed a lawsuit against the producers of the miniseries and also Otis Williams, whose memoirs had been the source material for the miniseries. The case was dismissed in favor of the defendants, with Williams later claiming that he had no real control over the presentation of the material.

Personal life

Ruffin had a stormy relationship with singer Tammi Terrell and is alleged to have physically abused her. Ruffin was married twice: His wives were Sandra Ruffin and Joy Hamilton. With Sandra, Ruffin had three daughters: Cheryl, Nedra and Kimberly. He also has a son, David, Jr. (also a recording artist), by a former girlfriend. His daughter Kimberly, also goes by the name, "Mone," and works as a hairstylist, in Detroit.Michael Jackson covered the expenses of his funeral, at which Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder performed. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery.


Ruffin had many admirers among his fellow artists, mainly for the emotive power he brought to every song he sang. "Nobody could sing like David Ruffin," said his close friend and colleague Martha Reeves (of Martha and the Vandellas fame).. His contemporary, label-mate, and long-time acquaintance Marvin Gaye was particularly impressed with the virility of Ruffin's voice. Gaye said Ruffin's work "made me remember that when a lot of women listen to music, they want to feel the power of a real man.".

Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, one of Ruffin's biggest fans, said, "His voice had a certain glorious anguish that spoke to people on many emotional levels".. Ruffin himself said, "I don't know what kind of voice I have, I really don't"'s just about "the feeling I get for the song.".

The raspy-voiced Rod Stewart fell in love with Ruffin's voice after he heard "I Wish It Would Rain".. "It jumped out of the speakers and ravished my soul," Stewart exclaimed.. Stewart would later become friends with Ruffin.. "His voice was so powerful -- like a foghorn on the Queen Mary," Stewart told Rolling Stone magazine..

For all of his nearly forty years in the music business, much of it with modest success, Ruffin is remembered almost exclusively for his relatively brief stint in the Temptations. In the answer to why Ruffin looms so large a figure in the Motown supergroup's legacy, veteran Detroit disc jockey and friend of Ruffin Tom Sherman told the Detroit Free Press in 1988 that "The Temptations have always had that unique sound," but "what David provided was the element of showmanship. They didn't have charisma until David joined them. David Ruffin was the show. David Ruffin was the Temptations.".

Solo discography


David Ruffin

The Ruffin Brothers

Ruffin & Kendrick


On the Tamla Motown Label (UK)
  • TMG689 My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me) / I've Got to Find Myself a Brand New Baby 7" NOTE: also released directly by Motown [M-1140]
  • TMG711 I've Lost Everything I've Ever Loved / We'll Have a Good Thing Going On 7" NOTE: also released directly by Motown [M-1149]
  • TMG936 Take Me Clear From Here / Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can) 7"
  • TMG1017 Walk Away From Love / Love Can Be Hazardous to Your Health 7"
  • TMG1022 Heavy Love / Me and Rock & Roll (Are Here To Stay) 7"
  • TMG1036 Discover Me / Smiling Faces Sometimes 7"

  • TMG1078 I can't stop the rain / My whole world ended (the moment you left me) 7"
  • TMG1093 Rode by the place (where we used to live) / You`re my peace of mind 7"

On the Motorcity label (UK)
  • MOTC 33 Hurt the One You Love (12", 1991)


  1. See
  2. See
  3. See
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. Williams and Romanowski (1988), pp. 68-70.
  7. See [3]@5:53
  8. See [4]@6:02
  9. See [5]@6:14
  10. [6]
  11. John A. Drobnicki, "Ruffin, Davis Eli ('David')," in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Vol. III: 1991-1993 (Scribner's, 2001), pp. 461-462.
  12. * Cheryl Ruffin-Steinback, et al. v. Suzanne De Passe, et al. Appeal filed Sept 28, 2001 in United States Court of Appeals. Text available here.
  13. [7]
  14. [8]
  15. [9]
  16. David was played by a actor named Leon in the 1998 Temptations movie
  17. link

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