David Ruffin - Songs, The Temptations & Death

David Ruffin was an American soul singer who first came to prominence as a member of the Temptations and went on to have a solo career.

Who Was David Ruffin?

David Ruffin’s early songwriting career began when he was just a teenager. Before eventually signing with Motown Records and becoming a member of the Temptations, he competed in talent competitions in Memphis and sang there. Before Ruffin’s drug usage caused the band to fall apart and fire him, the Temptations had a lot of success with songs like “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” However, Ruffin’s drug addiction caused the band to break up. Ruffin had some success as a solo artist. Still, overall, his career was a struggle, and he passed away from an accidental overdose of cocaine just two years after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Early Years

Davis Eli Ruffin was born on January 18, 1941, in Whynot, Mississippi. Ruffin was named for him. His mother passed away when he was born, and his father, a Baptist minister, was responsible for his upbringing. At thirteen, he moved out of his childhood home to become a minister, but he quickly found himself performing in Memphis talent shows instead. As a teenager, he started creating songs. After competing in talent competitions, he launched a real singing career (together with his brother Jimmy) with the Dixie Nightingales, a local gospel group. He is still performing today. Over the course of his career, Ruffin has been a member of and performed on tour with some groups, including the Womack Brothers, the Staple Singers, and the Dixie Hummingbirds (all gospel groups). He evolved into a true showman on stage, and his actions attracted the attention of people attending gospel performances and music professionals from other genres.


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The Temptations

Before going to Detroit at 17, Ruffin was briefly signed to Chess Records in Chicago. After making a move, he met Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, who offered him a recording contract. He worked on an album with the Voice Masters and secured a contract with a Motown subsidiary label, but the music he created was not successful commercially. The opportunity of a lifetime for Mr. Ruffin came in 1963 when he was selected to succeed Mr. Eldridge Bryant as the tenor vocalist for the Temptations. After remaining in the background for the first year and a half, in 1965, Ruffin took the vocal lead on hits such as “My Girl,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” The band took off, becoming stars on the international music scene while appearing on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. His brother Jimmy also signed with Motown recordings, and his song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” was a breakthrough hit for him.

As the new frontman for the band, Ruffin began to receive the majority of the media attention; nevertheless, his erratic behavior, typically linked to his usage of cocaine, also began to gain notice. When he demanded certain privileges that were not afforded to the other members of the group and wanted the group’s name to be changed to David Ruffin and the Temptations (as had been done with Diana Ross and the Supremes), he was officially deemed out of control, and the band fired him in June of 1968. David Ruffin was the lead singer of the Temptations at the time of his dismissal.

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After leaving the Temptations, Ruffin began a solo career and had modest success with “My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)” in 1969. At the time, Ruffin was still under contract with Motown Records. However, Ruffin’s popularity was short-lived, and he withdrew from the music industry for three years before making a comeback in 1975 with a top 10 single (“Walk Away From Love”) and a few further hits. After leaving Motown in 1979, he signed on with Warner Bros. Unfortunately; this was not the start of a fresh beginning for Ruffin; rather, it was the beginning of the end.

In the early 1980s, Ruffin served time in prison for failing to pay taxes, although he also participated in the Temptations’ reunion tour in 1983. However, because he had resumed his old partying ways with a vengeance, Ruffin could not attend the first three gigs of the tour. Despite this, the tour resulted in an appearance at a prominent New York Apollo Theater event with longtime fans Hall and Oates. Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations joined Oates and Hall for the performance. At the Live Aid performance in Philadelphia, Ruffin and Kendricks were also there, in addition to Hall and Oates.


Along with five of his fellow Temptations bandmates, Ruffin was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Ruffin passed away in a crack house in Philadelphia when he was 50 years old, just two years and a few months later. A few hours later, he was left in front of a hospital, where he ultimately overdosed and died from his injuries.

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