Eddie Kendricks (1939-1992) was the first lead tenor for the Temptations, one of the most popular rhythm and blues (R&B) vocal groups of the 1960s. After lending his voice to a number of hit songs by the group, Kendricks went solo in 1971 and recorded other hits for Motown Records, including the dance floor classics "Keep On Truckin'" and "Boogie Down."
Born December 17, 1939, in Union Springs, Bullock County, to Johnny and Lee Bell Kendrick, Eddie James Kendrick (the "s" was added to his name later) moved with his family to Birmingham, Jefferson County; Kendrick had four siblings, a sister and three brothers. While living in the Tuxedo Junction section of Ensley, he met another young singer, Paul Williams, in their church choir. Kendrick and Williams began singing secular material around Birmingham during the mid-1950s. Their group, the Cavaliers (which included their friends Kel Osborn and Jerome Averette) moved to Cleveland in 1957 and took on manager Milton Jenkins, who brought them to Detroit. There they renamed themselves the Primes, but Osbourne's departure for a solo career in Los Angeles ended the group.
Kendricks and Williams were contacted by Otis Williams who, along with Melvin Franklin and Elbridge Bryant, was an ex-member of another recently defunct group, the Distants. Otis Williams needed two more singers to round out his new group for a Motown Records audition. With the addition of Kendricks and Paul Williams (no relation to Otis), the audition was successful. The new quintet initially was known as the Elgins but soon changed its name to the Temptations. The group made its recording debut in mid-1961 with "Oh, Mother of Mine" on Motown's short-lived Miracle logo.
Kendricks and Williams were the main lead singers on the Temptations' first few singles, with Kendricks singing lead on "Dream Come True," their first R&B chart hit. In early 1964, producer and composer Smokey Robinson worked with the group to record "The Way You Do The Things You Do," which reached number 11 on the pop charts. Robinson became the producer on the group's next few hits.
Kendricks also sang lead on two other 1964 hits, "I'll Be In Trouble" and "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)." After David Ruffin, who joined the group in 1964, emerged as another powerful voice within the group on the 1965 hit "My Girl," Kendricks and Ruffin largely split lead singing duties. Smokey Robinson continued to produce records for the group until 1966; after that Norman Whitfield assumed the primary production reins for the Temptations.
Kendricks also wrote several songs for the Temptations, notably "Isn't She Pretty," "Lonely, Lonely Man Am I," and "No Man Can Love Her Like I Do." He sang lead on the hits "You're My Everything" (1967) and "Please Return Your Love To Me" (1968). After producer Whitfield revamped the group's sound, all five members took turns interjecting lines over a funk-rock sound very different from their earlier hits. Kendricks's last time singing lead with the group came with the huge hit "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" in 1971; the song reached number one on both the pop and R&B charts.
Kendricks left the Temptations for a solo career in 1971. His first solo album, All By Myself, produced by Frank Wilson on Motown's Tamla label, contained the moderate hits "It's So Hard For Me To Say Good-Bye" and "Can I." His second album, People . . . Hold On (1973), was more successful and contained what co-producer Wilson cites as the first disco record, "Girl You Need a Change of Mind." Kendricks was backed by his Washington, D.C.-based road band, the Young Senators.
During the latter half of 1973 and into early 1974, Kendrickss' solo career took off with early disco hits "Keep On Truckin" and "Boogie Down," which reached number one on the R&B chart and number two on the pop chart. Kendricks also tried his hand at producing a young Detroit group called Posse during the early 1970s, without much success. Although he never achieved the same level of success again, Kendricks remained a commercial force on Tamla; "Intimate Friends" was Kendricks' last Tamla hit single, in early 1978.
After 17 years with Motown, Kendricks moved to Arista Records, where he had more success with "Ain't No Smoke Without Fire" and "The Best of Strangers Now" in 1978 and "I Just Want To Be The One In Your Life" in 1980. Kendricks reunited with past and present members of the Temptations for a reunion tour on the strength of their 1982 hit "Standing At The Top," produced by Rick James. Kendrick (having by this time reverted to the original spelling of his last name) and Ruffin teamed with pop duo Daryl Hall and John Oates for a medley of "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and "My Girl," taped live at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City, that came out on RCA and reached the pop Top 20 in 1985. Ruffin and Kendrick remained a duo on RCA, recording the R&B hit "I Couldn't Believe It" in 1987 and another the next year, "One More For The Lonely Hearts Club."
The Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. A longtime heavy smoker, Kendricks died of lung
cancer on October 5, 1992, in Birmingham and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Dahl, Bill. Motown: The Golden Years. Iola, Wis.: Krause Publications, 2001.
Published February 8, 2010
Last updated August 15, 2013