His name may never quite have been as widely-known as his voice, but Eddie Kendricks was a vocalist of unique and distinctive soulfulness. As a co-founder of the Temptations, he sang on many of the songs that earned them the soubriquet of the Emperors of Soul, and his supple falsetto went on to feature on several landmark hits of his own. Eddie was born in Union Springs, Alabama on December 17, 1939, and died tragically young, of cancer, at just 52.
In the golden era of the Temptations’ rise to preeminence at Motown, Kendricks’ light, acrobatic voice was the perfect foil for the gritty tones of the group’s other chief lead singer, the equally brilliant David Ruffin. Eddie had the distinction of singing lead on the Tempts’ first chart single, 1962’s “Dream Come True,” and the first R&B No.1 that came right after it, “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” As stylish in person as on record, he was behind many of the striking wardrobe choices that made the group even more glamorous.
Before his departure in 1971, Kendricks had taken the lead on such indelible highlights of their songbook as the pacy “Get Ready” and their collaboration with the Supremes, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” He also had key roles in the multiple-vocal Norman Whitfield productions that gave them an exciting new sound in the late 60s, especially when he delivered the title line of “Ball Of Confusion.”
Tensions within the group led to Kendricks’ departure, but he went out in glory, with the melodic, dreamy narrative of the 1971 US pop and R&B chart-topper “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” After a run of modest chart entries at the outset of his solo career, he delivered a superb one-two punch of No.1s in 1973 with “Keep On Truckin’” and “Boogie Down,” in a run of nine consecutive R&B top tenners that also included another bestseller, “Shoeshine Boy.”
Later years delivered less success, and a departure from Motown followed in 1978, but he and Ruffin returned to the Temptations fold briefly for a 1982 tour and album, Reunion. Produced by later Tamla star Rick James, it included the exhilarating hit featuring Kendricks, Ruffin, and one of their successors, Dennis Edwards, “Standing On The Top.”
The 80s also brought Kendricks and Ruffin together with their great admirers Daryl Hall & John Oates, co-starring on 1985’s Live At The Apollo album. Eddie and David made an LP together for RCA in 1988, before being part of the Temptations’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year. Diagnosed with lung cancer, Kendricks fought the disease for well over a year, before his death in the autumn of 1992. His role in a shining era of soul music will never be forgotten.
“Unless a singer produces himself he has to portray the producer,” he said in an interview with Disc in 1973. “Which means sometimes what you’re doing isn’t really you. But I feel if my voice remains distinctive, then that really doesn’t matter. The main thing is always to keep your identity.”