Dennis Edwards of the Temptations Dies
Former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards died at the age of 74 in a Chicago hospital, his family has confirmed. The cause of death was complications from meningitis, with which he'd been diagnosed last May. Today (Feb. 3) would have been his 75th birthday.
His friend Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers told the St Louis Post-Dispatch, “We prayed for him and hoped he would get himself together and be able to come back. But he’s with the Lord now.” He added, “He had a gift, a talent and he really sang. There aren’t many people left with voices like his.”
Edwards was a member of the iconic soul band from 1968 until 1977 -- a time when their sound shifted to a grittier, more psychedelic direction -- and appeared on hit singles including “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “Ball of Confusion” and “I Can’t Get Next to You.”
He began singing in gospel choirs before studying music at college and then joined the Contours in the early ‘60s. The Temptations hired him after dismissing David Ruffin, and his rougher voice helped inspire a move towards the sound that pushed them to the top of the charts. They won Grammys for “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Edwards was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for his work with the Temptations in 2013. After leaving the band he returned three times, with his final stint taking place from 1987 to 1989.
Otis Williams, the last remaining original member of the Temptations, tweeted via the band's official account, “Very sad to learn of the passing of our brother, Dennis Edwards. He is now at peace, and our love and prayers go out to his family. We acknowledge his extraordinary contribution to the Temptations' legacy, which lives on in the music.”
Others who paid tribute included Smokey Robinson, who told Rolling Stone: “It really saddens me to know that another Motown soldier is gone.” Whitesnake leader David Coverdale tweeted: “RIP an amazing singer… thoughts & prayers to his family, friends and fans.” Vernon Reid of Living Colour described Edwards as an “indelibly identifiable stylist, too often overlooked in the pantheon of R&B’s very greatest artists.”
As much as the Ruffin-era Temptations hits -- "My Girl," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "I Wish It Would Rain" defined Motown's first wave of soul classics, the tracks on which Edwards sang helped ushered in a new period for the label, one in which they branched out into social commentary, including "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," "Ball of Confusion." As much as those hits are associated with the headlines of the late '60s and early '70s, they've remained relevant through covers by a wide variety of artists, which you can hear below.