- Faith & Family
They started in Detroit, Michigan in 1960 as The Elgins but went through several other names along the way. Their classic lineup of five male vocalists and dancers became known for their distinct harmonies, elaborate choreography and the “soul” that would become the trademark for any group under the Motown Records banner. Now, 51 years and many Grammy Awards later, only Otis Williams, 70, remains as the sole living original member of the “tempting Temptations” — and he’s still performing — loving every minute.
“When we started we just wanted to sing — we had no idea that we would have the kind of opportunities and the level of success that came our way,” he said. “It’s always been about the music because that was our way of communicating with the world. Now we use that voice to tell young people to stay in school and to stay out of trouble and they look to us as a source of inspiration. That’s what this ride and life has been about.”
The Temptations have gone through a long series of changes in their lineup but most fans remember Williams, along with Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin. One of their more popular lead singers from the 1970s, Dennis Edwards, has formed his own version of the group. He and Williams remain friends. Williams says he often thinks about the “good old days.”
“I have mixed emotions about those days — I wish we could have stayed together forever but like anything else, the group is made up of people and people all handle success differently,” he said. “I think that our fans actually loved us more than some of us loved ourselves. We didn’t always appreciate the blessings that God afforded us. Still I think about the early days and I smile. Then I think about the craziness and say ‘wow.’ It’s a double-edged sword — sometimes there’s a lot of happiness and then there’s sadness. I guess that’s my testimony about my life.”
What are his favorite songs? Williams says “My Girl” is at the top of his list of Temptation classics.
“If we don’t sing ‘My Girl,’ we are subject to be called everything but a child of God,” he said. “We learned once to never leave the stage without performing that. My other favorites are ‘Treat Her Like a Lady,’ ‘Ball of Confusion,’ and ‘I Wish It Would Rain.’”
Otis Williams has carried the torch for The Temptations and through their music, they have healed broken hearts, inspired lovers and even challenged America’s involvement in war. He says it’s a mission that he accepted many years ago.
“I carry the yoke as the last original Temptation and I don’t mind at all — that’s the way it should be,” he said. “I am honored and blessed to have these other brothers helping me as we continue to share the message and music of The Temptations.”
By D. Kevin McNeir