The only surviving original member of the hit R&B group talks about the darker side of a legacy and the musical it inspired
One of the first times Otis Williams, the founder and last surviving original member of the Temptations, realized his music made an indelible impact on their fans occurred after he received a letter in the mail. Im reading it and it said to give them a call the first chance I had, Williams remembers. She gets on the phone and told me she was ill and asked: God, dont take me until I speak to Otis Williams. She said she wanted to tell me how much the music meant to her before she died. I didnt have any idea when we started making this music to just have fun and make money that itd be so emotional for people.
Its a sentiment that has lasted through the Temptations success, as they have held onto the distinction of being one of the most commercially dominant vocal groups in music history. With 14 R&B No 1 singles under their belts (among them: My Girl, The Way You Do the Things You Do, Cloud Nine, Papa Was a Rolling Stone and Get Ready), their music provided a soundtrack to the 60s and early 70s, helping lift up Motown Records in the process.
Despite launching over a half-century ago, the Temptations and their legend has lately been enjoying fresh relevance. A jukebox musical, based on their rise and told from the perspective of Williams dubbed Aint Too Proud (named after their 1966 signature Aint Too Proud to Beg) debuted on Broadway in March and later garnered 11 Tony nominations, winning for best choreography. In addition, Williams was recently honored at the Apollo Theaters recent Spring Gala where he was bestowed a spot on the historic Harlem theaters Walk of Fame. Here I am, 77 years old and Im enjoying my life as if Im 27, Williams says to the Guardian. I am profoundly blessed to be doing what Im doing 59 years later.
Williams, who grew up in Texas, packed up and moved to Michigan with his mother when he was 10 (his parents separated shortly after Williams was born). As fate would have it, he wound up in Detroit just as the citys homegrown Motown Records (founded by Berry Gordy and named, of course, after the citys then claim to fame as the automobile capital of the world) was in its infancy. It was happenstance, Williams says now, who initially found trouble in the city but later found solace in music, later founding the Temptations with its original lineup of Al Bryant, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams. It was necessary timing and it was meant to be that God in his infinite wisdom put all of these producers, writers and artists together at that time and made such profound music.
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