(In theaters and streaming on Hulu! Watch this star-studded historical movie!)
*I have written many articles about Motown great David Ruffin who fronted hit songs (written/produced by Smokey Robinson) recorded by The Temptations like “My Girl,” “It’s Growing,” “Since I Lost My Baby;” and (written/produced by Norman Whitfield) “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Losing You” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” With the release of the film “Summer of Soul 1969” I feel people can now actually see what I have been trying to convey for years – the guy had a wonderful unique talent with a mesmerizing stage presence, and a vocal range from baritone to octaves on par with Minnie Riperton.
It was much like people who were interviewed in the movie trying to describe over the years what they experienced during that span of six weekends from June to August 1969. It preceded Woodstock, and was shelved in a basement for 50 years due to lack of interest in distribution. Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is to be commended for poring through 45 hours of footage and condensing it to a meaningful, cohesive two-hour documentary. I’m glad to see all the pre-MTV extraordinarily talented Black (and Brown) performers showcased in their prime on the big screen!
While other performers at the Harlem summer festival – Sly & The Family Stone, The Fifth Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & The Pips – found fame and exposure in the shift of Black music during that era, Ruffin at his prime, seemed to be left behind. The Temptations won Motown’s first Grammy with their first smash hit “Cloud Nine” after Ruffin’s departure. Par excellence, many of Ruffin’s finest recordings like “Make My Water Boil” written and produced by Stevie Wonder; and his covers of “Rainy Night In Georgia” and “I Want You Back” were vaulted – reportedly due to reasons I won’t get into right now – for 40 years before being released. Despite what may have gone down, his talent should not have been denied! See David Ruffin Discography.
In 2008, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Ruffin as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. He influenced many like Rod Stewart, Daryl Hall and Bruce Springsteen with his raspy, anguished vocals, and was inducted, along with The Temptations, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
I only found out the night before I went to see the film that Ruffin was in it; some of the reviews don’t even mention his name. He sang one of his signature Temptations songs in a way that was probably disallowed when he was with his former group. True fans will enjoy it. As he gets into the song, he waves to a guy up in a tree and says “Hey brother!!
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Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based contributing writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” and “Book To The Future” (Amazon); two insightful books that speak to our moral conscience in times like these. Email: [email protected]