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Dennis Edwards, a former lead singer of Motown pioneers the Temptations, died Thursday at the age of 74. He was a member of the revered soul group originally from 1968 until 1977 and later rejoined for various reunions into the Eighties. His voice was present on a string of hits, including “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” His family confirmed the singer’s death to CBS News.
Edwards’ wife Brenda said the singer, who was living in Missouri, died at a Chicago hospital of complications from meningitis, she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was diagnosed with the disease in May 2017.
“It really saddens me to know that another Motown soldier is gone. Rest in peace, my brother. You were a great talent,” Smokey Robinson tells Rolling Stone.
Edwards was born February 3rd, 1943 in Fairfield, Alabama and grew up in Detroit. He sang in gospel groups as a teen and studied at the Detroit Conservatory of Music before embarking on music professionally, according to The New York Times. He was a member of Motown artists the Contours in the earlier part of the Sixties. The ensemble was best known for the 1962 song “Do You Love Me,” which they released before he was a member.
He joined the Temptations in 1968, when the group fired David Ruffin, and brought a fresh vivacity to their sound; his voice was a bit of grit to replace Ruffin’s smooth falsetto. The quintet adopted a more bluesy, soul-rock vibe and began writing lyrics that spoke more to the social issues of the time, scoring an immediate hit with the Sly Stone-esque “Cloud Nine.” Edwards’ Temptations lineup enjoyed a tenure in the upper echelons of the R&B and pop charts for the next few years, scoring crossover hits with “Run Away Child, Running Wild,” “Don’t Let the Joneses Get You Down,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today).” The quintet won Grammys for “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
Although the Temptations continued to rank Top 10 R&B hits toward the end of Edwards’ tenure, their reign in the pop chart’s Top 30 dwindled over time. Nevertheless, they continued to put out best-selling albums. Every LP of new material that they put out through 1976 reached the album chart’s Top 40, and many made it into the Top 10.
The group split with Motown for 1976’s The Temptations Do the Temptations and moved to Atlantic, around which time Edwards left the quintet. He rejoined for a few years in the early Eighties, when they returned to Motown, and scored a hit again with 1980’s “Power.” The attendant album, The Temptations, however was not a hit. Ruffin returned in 1982, and the group embarked on a reunion tour, scoring a hit with 1982’s Reunion and the Rick James–produced single “Standing on the Top (Part 1).” He left in 1983 but was back in 1986 for a year, just long enough to record To Be Continued. He’d join again for a final tenure from 1987 to 1989.
Outside of the Temptations, Edwards put out a handful of solo albums and scored a hit with “Don’t Look Any Further,” a duet with Siedah Garrett, which made it to Number 72 on the pop chart and Number 2 on the R&B chart. The song later became fodder for the hip-hop’s nascent new school, appearing as a sample in Eric B. and Rakim’s game-changing “Paid in Full” and later in 2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up” and Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money” with the Notorious B.I.G. Subsequent solo singles in the mid-Eighties, like “(You’re My) Aphrodisiac” and “Coolin’ Out” were R&B hits but didn’t cross over onto the pop chart. His last album of original material, Talk to Me, came out in 1993, followed by The Temptations Greatest Hits Live, his last solo release, in 1995.
In the late Eighties, Edwards teamed with Ruffin and the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks for a “Tribute to the Temptations” package tour. As a solo artist, he’d also sometimes bill his shows as Temptations performances, leading the group’s original members, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, to sue him. In 1999, an injunction prevented him from billing himself as a member of the Temptations, leading him to tour as the Temptations Review Featuring Dennis Edwards.
The singer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Temptations in 1989. In 2013, Edwards also received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, given to the Temptations.
The New York Times reports that Edwards was once married to one of the Pointer Sisters, Ruth Pointer, but that the marriage ended in divorce. His survivors include his wife, Brenda, five daughters, a son and grandchildren.