David Ruffin: The Motown Years

On the first of June, 1991, almost 30 years ago, we lost one of the greatest purveyors of what we now call classic Soul. A talent no less revered than the one and only Marvin Gaye wished to possess a voice like him.

Davis Eli Ruffin was born in rural Mississippi in 1941; his mother died while he was still an infant, leaving David and his siblings Jimmy, Quincy and Rita Mae to be raised by their strict father and his new wife. They toured the country as Gospel singers, working with all of the greats during the Golden Age of Gospel, including Mahalia Jackson.

At the age of 16, he moved with friends of the family to Detroit. He wished to be a singer of secular music like his idols Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, who also started out as Gospel singers. He would record one-off singles without success. To pay the bills, he lived and worked with with Berry Gordy Sr., a contractor. Gordy Sr. also just happened to be the father of the man who would create the biggest Black-owned business in the world. Ruffin literally help build the house at 2648 W. Grand Ave., which became the headquarters for Motown Records, called Hitsville. (It is now houses the Motown museum, which was designated an official Michigan Historical site in 1987.)

Fate would eventually put him in a group with four other amazing singers: The Temptations. Though they were having some success, it was with the 1965 classic, “My Girl”, with lead by Ruffin, that the band would become unstoppable. Unfortunately, living the high life quickly took its toll on Ruffin, and he was fired from the group in 1968.

“I don’t know what kind of voice I have, I really don’t…it’s just about the feeling I get for the song.”

– David Ruffin

Still under contract to Motown, his a solo career started off with promise and a million-selling single, but then fizzled for more than half a decade, some of this due to poor promotion and mismanagement by the label. Ruffin would stage a major comeback in the mid-1970’s on Motown and again in the mid-1980’s with former Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks.

Along the way, Ruffin squandered away all of his money, had done time for tax evasion, was in and out of drug rehab and the courts for a variety of criminal offenses, and even declared bankruptcy. He died at the age of 50 in Philadelphia from what would be called an overdose from cocaine. These tracks are an overview of the greatness that placed him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

First Part

  • My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)*
  • (I Know) I’m Losing You**
  • You Can Come Right Back To Me*
  • I Wish it Would Rain**
  • Beauty’s Only Skin Deep**
  • Common Man*
  • Sorry Is A Sorry Word**
  • Walk Away From Love (album version)*

Second Part

  • Ain’t Too Proud To Beg**
  • Statue of a Fool*
  • Lo and Behold***
  • My Girl**
  • (Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need**
  • Just Let Me Hold You For A Night*
  • Since I Lost My Baby**


  • I Miss You, Part 1

*David Ruffin solo
**The Temptations (featuring David Ruffin on lead)
***David and Jimmy Ruffin duet

Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr. 
Host, Producer, Audio Engineer and Writer

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