Kendricks, Eddie James

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Kendricks, Eddie James

(b. 17 December 1939 in Union Springs, Alabama; d. 5 October 1992 in Birmingham, Alabama), tenor with the rhythm and blues (R&B) group the Temptations in the 1960s who struck out on a solo career in the 1970s.

Kendricks was one of five children born to Johnny and Lee Bell Kendrick (different spelling). Accompanied by his close childhood friend, Paul Williams, Kendricks left Alabama in 1956 and headed for Cleveland. The two boys followed in the tradition of southern black musicians who migrated in order to pursue their artistic dreams. Kendricks hoped to follow in the path of the “doo wop” groups that were gaining popularity in the 1950s. With that in mind, he and Williams combined efforts with two other young musicians, Kell Osbourne and Willy Waller, to form the Cavaliers. Minus Waller, they moved to Detroit to capitalize upon the burgeoning R&B scene in that city. There the trio became the Primes. In a clever act of showmanship they teamed with a female group for local bookings. The Primettes, as they were called, went on to become the Supremes.

In 1960 Kendricks and Williams merged with Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Elbridge Bryant of the Distants, and the new group became the Elgins. They signed with the Motown label that year and soon thereafter were renamed the Temptations. With the replacement of Bryant (who left in 1963) by David Ruffin in 1964, the five musicians who constituted the classic lineup for the Temptations were in place. While the group survived many personnel changes in previous and subsequent years, the five remained together between 1963 and 1968 and were responsible for creating one of the most celebrated Motown acts.

R&B groups were plentiful on the Motown label, but the Temptations, aptly named indeed, possessed a special and compelling quality. They were athletic and dashing, yet romantic and seductive. Their dance moves as well as their harmonies were precise, smooth, and confident. According to Joe McEwen and Jim Miller in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll,“they could outdress, outdance, and outsing any competition in sight.” (Kendricks was also in charge of the Temptations’ wardrobe.) Ken-dricks’s skillful and clear falsetto lent a distinctive quality to the Temptations’ music, although he preferred to think of himself as a “roaming tenor.” His voice punctuated the blend of gospel styles with pop sounds, and he communicated emotions richly and convincingly. The Temptations’ first major hit, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” featured Kendricks and reached eleventh on the pop charts for 1964. Other hits such as “My Girl” (1965), “Get Ready” (1966), “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a collaboration with Diana Ross and the Supremes (1968), and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” (1971) were marked by Kendricks’s characteristic vocal touch. In 1968 Ruffin was voted out of the band after failing to show for a concert; he was replaced by Dennis Edwards.

As the 1960s unfolded and turbulent events affected cultural trends, popular music responded to audiences’ desire for a more aggressive sound that included social commentary. Under the guidance of their second producer, Norman Whitfield (their first producer was Smokey Robinson), the Temptations responded to the popularity of “psychedelic soul” with hits such as “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (1970) and “Psychedelic Shack” (1970). Although the group was at the height of its popularity, Kendricks did not like the direction the band was heading. “I don’t dig those weird, freaky sounds,” he stated. Far more comfortable with the group’s original sound, Kendricks decided to leave the Temptations in 1971 after “Just My Imagination,” the final hit recorded in the former style. In addition to creative differences within the group, there was increasing conflict and resentment among members.

Kendricks moved to the West Coast, determined to go alone. His solo career was patchy and proceeded down a variety of paths. His first two albums, All by Myself (1971) and People … Hold On (1972), failed to make a mark. His first solo hit was in 1973 with “Keep On Truckin’” from the album Eddie Kendricls. The single sold over 3 million copies and was number one on both the R&B and pop charts. Boogie Down! (1974) also produced a hit single. Another album in 1974, For You, demonstrated a change in style that submerged Kendricks’s voice in a sea of vocal harmonies and gave rise to his third hit single, “Shoeshine Boy.” The Hit Man (1975), He’s a Friend (1976), Going Up in Smoke (1976), and Slick (1977) failed to produce any memorable singles. His next two albums, Vintage ’78 (1978) and Something More (1979) surrendered to the disco fad. Thus, Kendricks’s years away from the Temptations witnessed prolific recording and a relatively successful solo career. Although his years on his own did not generate many hits, he was critically acclaimed as a performer. A review in the New York Times of a 1978 concert at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem noted his “impressive authority” and skill at giving “each word just the right emphasis while maintaining the illusion of a casual, almost speech-like delivery.”

Kendricks returned to the Temptations for a reunion tour and album in 1982, when he reestablished the close musical and personal bond he had shared with former Temptation David Ruffin. The two performed at Live Aid in London and Philadelphia, toured with pop duo Hall and Oates and were featured on their album Live at the Apollo (1985). The ex-Temptations’ album Ruffin and Kendricks (1988) was a nostalgic and successful collaboration representing the culmination of many years of creative partnership and complex friendship. The two were rivals who competed for the lead in the Temptations, but they were deeply connected. As one observer noted, their relationship was “impenetrable to outsiders and linked in steel,” as was reflected in the intensity and excellence of their musical performances. They reunited once again with the rest of the Temptations in 1989 when the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ruffin died of a drug overdose on 1 June 1991.

Kendricks, who had been married to a woman named Patricia, by whom he had one daughter, suffered from his own medical problems in 1991 and had a lung removed due to cancer. He believed his illness was caused by thirty years of smoking. He succumbed to the disease on 5 October 1992. He is buried in Elwood Cemetery in Birmingham.

Kendricks was a southern African-American musician who migrated north in a period marked by expanding civil rights activism. He and the Temptations were part of a significant moment in American music history when different traditions and forms combined to create a sound that appealed across racial barriers. They were players in the trend that defined and excited a generation of young Americans. Kendricks was a gifted singer and fine performer who demonstrated flexibility and willingness to adapt to prevailing trends. While his solo career met with uneven results, the Temptations, however, would always be a powerful force in his creative and personal life: between 1963 and 1971 he was featured in twenty of their pop and R&B hits. It was with the Temptations that he achieved his first major success, and it was there that he celebrated his musical finale.

The Temptations are the subject of two books, both of which chronicle Kendricks’s role in the group and on his own: Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski, Temptations (1988), and Tony Turner with Barbara Aria, Deliver Us from Temptation: The Tragic and Shocking Story of the Temptations and Motown (1992). Other relevant accounts appear in Gerri Hirshey, Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music (1984, rev. ed. 1994), and in Joe McEwen and Jim Miller, “Motown,” The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll (1976). Entries on Kendricks appear in The African-American Almanac (1994), The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul (1989), and The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll (1983). An obituary is in the New York Times (7 Oct. 1992).

Liann E. Tsoukas