Dennis Edwards, Temptations vocalist, dies at 74

Dennis Edwards, who joined the top Motown act the Temptations to take lead vocals on some of the group’s most memorable latter-day hits such as “Just My Imagination,” died Friday in Chicago of undisclosed causes. He was 74.

In 1968, Edwards stepped in to replace founding lead singer David Ruffin in “the Temps.” While Ruffin had specialized largely in smoother romantic balladry, the gospel-trained Edwards sported a grittier style, and he left a distinctive mark on the unit’s work as both lead vocalist and in the ensemble harmonies.

His arrival in the Temptations coincided with the increasingly expansive and experimental “psychedelic soul” productions helmed by Norman Whitfield, who also co-wrote many of their biggest chart hits, many of which featured pointed social or political content.

With Edwards, the retooled quintet struck gold with 1968’s “Cloud Nine” (No. 6 pop, No. 2 R&B). That stylistic breakthrough was followed by such other dynamic Whitfield-produced numbers as 1969’s “Runaway Child, Running Wild” (No. 6 pop, No. 1 R&B) and “I Can’t Get Next to You” (No. 1 pop and R&B), 1970’s “Psychedelic Shack” (No. 7 pop, No. 2 R&B) and “Ball of Confusion” (No. 3 pop, No. 2 R&B), 1971’s “Just My Imagination” (No. 1 pop and R&B) and 1972’s “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”

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Dennis Edwards from The Temptations throughout his life
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Dennis Edwards from The Temptations throughout his life
TCB -- Aired 12/9/68 -- Pictured: Dennis Edwards of The Temptations (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TCB -- Pictured: The Temptations: (l-r) (back row l-r) Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks (bottom row l-r) Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams -- Photo by: Paul W. Bailey/NBCU Photo Bank
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Melvin FRANKLIN and Eddie KENDRICKS and TEMPTATIONS and Paul WILLIAMS and Otis WILLIAMS and Dennis EDWARDS; L-R: Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards - performing on TV show (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 01: TOP OF THE POPS Photo of TEMPTATIONS, L-R: Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, Otis Williams, Damon Harris, Richard Street - performing on TV Show (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 05: Photo of Richard STREET and TEMPTATIONS and Otis WILLIAMS and Damon HARRIS and Melvin FRANKLIN and Dennis EDWARDS; Group portrait - L-R Otis Williams, Damon Harris, Melvin Franklin (front), Dennis Edwards and Richard Street (Photo by Echoes/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1974: Photo of Temptations. Clockwise from far left: Richard Street, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards and Damon Harris. (Photo by Jim Britt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The Temptations (L-R) Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks & Dennis Edwards performing after receiving their awards at the 4th annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony; Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. (Photo by Robin Platzer/Twin Images/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: Photo of Melvin FRANKLIN and TEMPTATIONS and Dennis EDWARDS and Ron TYSON and Otis WILLIAMS and Richard STREET; L-R: Dennis Edwards, Ron Tyson, Otis Williams, Richard Street, Melvin Franklin performing live onstage, (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
Musikgruppe 'The Temptations Review feat.;Dennis Edwards', Presse, Verleihung 'Radio;Regenbogen Award', 'Stars unterm;Regenbogen', Mannheim, 'Rosengarten',;Medienpreis aus Baden-W�rttemberg,;Ankunft, roter Teppich, Preistr�er, (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Singer Dennis Edwards of The Temptations attends the Special Merit Awards Ceremony during the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Wilshire Ebell Theater on February 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Singer Dennis Edwards of The Temptations and recording artist Otis Williams attend the Special Merit Awards Ceremony during the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Wilshire Ebell Theater on February 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rick Diamond/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 05: The Temptations' lead singer Dennis Edwards attends the 'Motown: The Musical' Motown Family Night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on April 5, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Singer Dennis Edwards of The Temptations attends the 24th Annual Heroes And Legends Awards at Beverly Hills Hotel on September 22, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: and Singer Dennis Edwards of The Temptations (R) and his wife Brenda attend the 24th Annual Heroes And Legends Awards at Beverly Hills Hotel on September 22, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)
NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 18: Dennis Edwards and The Temptations attend the NMAAM 2016 Black Music Honors on August 18, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for National Museum of African American Music )
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 10: The Temptations Review (L-R) David Sea, Mike Patillo, Dennis Edwards, Chris Arnold and Paul Williams Jr. attend the Homeward Bound Telethon at American Legion Hall on November 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)
NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 18: Dennis Edwards of The Temptations performs during NMAAM 2016 Black Music Honors on August 18, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for National Museum of African American Music )
NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 18: The Temptations featuring Dennis Edwards performs during NMAAM 2016 Black Music Honors on August 18, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for National Museum of African American Music )
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The act’s last major hit was the No. 1 R&B single “Shakey Ground” in 1975.

Edwards essayed a solo career, and his 1984 Motown single “Don’t Look Any Further,” a duet with Siedah Garrett, reached No. 2 on the R&B charts in 1984. But he remained best known as a member of the Temptations; after a split with the act in 1977, he returned for a short second tour of duty in 1987.

After a wrangle with founding member Otis Williams, he toured during the ‘90s under the rubric the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards.

In 1989, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Temptations.

Edwards was born Feb. 3, 1943 in Fairfield, Ala. His father was a minister, and he grew up singing in the church. He moved with his family to Detroit in the early ‘50s.

As a teen, Edwards sang gospel, but, like Sam Cooke and many other prominent gospel performers, he turned to rhythm & blues. He briefly led his own group, Dennis Edwards and the Fireballs. In 1966, after a stint in the military, he joined Motown on retainer in a utility role, and worked briefly with the Contours.

David Ruffin’s escalating drug problems and egomania created tension within the Temptations, and in 1968 Williams and Eddie Kendricks brought Edwards into the act, while Ruffin exited for a solo career.

Edwards’ presence toughened the group’s vocal sound, and his presence helped loft Whitfield’s ingenious, densely produced records – which reflected the influence of Sly & the Family Stone and other rock-leaning soul acts of the day – to the pinnacle of both the pop and R&B charts.

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His years of prominence with the group coincided with the Temps’ biggest pop albums: “Cloud Nine” (No. 4, 1969), “Puzzle People” (No. 5, 1969), “Psychedelic Shack” (No. 9, 1970), “All Directions” (No. 2, 1972) and “Masterpiece” (No. 7, 1973). All of those titles hit No. 1 on the R&B albums charts.

Increasingly poor inter-group relations led Williams to fire Edwards, but, after a decade of solo work, he returned to the unit in 1987 after his replacement Ali Woodson’s departure. A second termination came within a year. Edwards’ plans to record with former Temps members Ruffin and Kendricks crashed after Ruffin’s death from a drug overdose in 1991.

Edwards is survived by a daughter from his brief marriage to Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters.

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