Paul Williams (The Temptations)
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Williams performs with The Temptations on The Ed Sullivan Show
July 2, 1939|
Ensley, Alabama, U.S.
|Origin||Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.|
August 17, 1973 (aged 34)|
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Paul Williams (July 2, 1939 – August 17, 1973) was an American baritone singer and choreographer. Williams was noted for being one of the founding members and original lead singer of the Motown group The Temptations. Along with Elbridge "Al" Bryant, Otis Williams , and fellow Alabamians Eddie Kendricks and Melvin Franklin, Williams was a member of The Temptations during the "Classic Five" period. Personal problems and failing health forced Williams to retire in 1971. He was found dead two years later as the result of an apparent suicide.
Paul Williams was born and raised in the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. He was the son of Sophia and Rufus Williams, a gospel singer in a gospel music vocal group called the Ensley Jubilee Singers. He met Eddie Kendricks in elementary school; supposedly, the two first encountered each other in a fistfight after Williams dumped a bucket of mop water on Kendricks. Both boys shared a love of singing, and sang in their church choir together. As teenagers, Williams, Kendricks, and Kell Osborne and Willie Waller performed in a secular singing group known as The Cavaliers, with dreams of making it big in the music industry. In 1957, Williams, Kendricks, and Osborne left Birmingham to start careers, leaving Waller behind. Now known as The Primes, the trio moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and eventually found a manager in Milton Jenkins, who moved the group to Detroit, Michigan. Although The Primes never recorded, they were successful performers, and even launched a spin-off female group called The Primettes, who later became The Supremes.
In 1961, Kell Osborne moved to California, and the Primes disbanded. Kendricks returned to Alabama, but visited Paul in Detroit shortly after. While on this visit, he and Paul had learned that Otis Williams, head of a rival Detroit act known as The Distants, had two openings in his group's lineup. Paul Williams and Kendricks joined Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Elbridge Bryant to form The Elgins, who signed to the local Motown label in 1961, after first changing their name to The Temptations.
With the Temptations
Although the group now had a record deal, Paul Williams and his bandmates endured a long series of failed singles before finally hitting the Billboard Top 20 in 1964 with "The Way You Do the Things You Do." More hits quickly followed, including "My Girl", "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and "(I Know) I'm Losing You."
Williams sang lead on several of the group's songs, and served as the main lead singer during the group's early years. His early leads include, "Your Wonderful Love" (1961), "Slow Down Heart" (1962), "I Want a Love I Can See" (1963), and "Oh, Mother of Mine" (1961) (the group's first single) and "Farewell My Love" (1963) both shared with Eddie Kendricks. Considered the Temptations' best dancer, Williams served as the group's original choreographer, devising routines for his group and The Supremes (most notably their trademark "Stop! In the Name of Love" routine), before Cholly Atkins took over that role for all of Motown's acts. Williams' later leads on Temptations songs include, "Just Another Lonely Night" (1965), "No More Water in the Well" (1967), a cover version of "Hey Girl" (1969), and his signature song "Don't Look Back" (1965).
Williams also sang lead with Dennis Edwards, who joined in 1968, on Motown's first Grammy Award-Winner "Cloud Nine". One of his best-known lead performances is his stand out live performance of "For Once in My Life," from the television special TCB, originally broadcast on December 9, 1968 on NBC. The live version of the song "Don't Look Back" is also frequently cited as one of his standout performances. He also took over the lead vocal for live performances of "My Girl" following David Ruffin's departure from the group.
Personal problems and decline
Williams suffered from sickle-cell anemia, which frequently wrought havoc on his physical health. In 1965, Williams began an affair with Winnie Brown, hair stylist for The Supremes and a relative of Supremes member Florence Ballard. In love with Brown but still devoted to his wife and children, Williams was also depressed because Cholly Atkins' presence now made Williams' former role as choreographer essentially, but not completely, obsolete. Life on the road was starting to take its toll on Williams as well, and, having previously consumed nothing stronger than milk, he began to drink alcohol heavily, namely Courvoisier, which, according to Otis Williams, was hard to take.
In the spring of 1969, Williams and Brown opened a celebrity fashion boutique in downtown Detroit. The business was not as successful as planned, and Williams soon found himself owing more than $80,000 in taxes (US$533,866 in 2017 dollars). His health had deteriorated to the point that he would sometimes be unable to perform, suffering from combinations of exhaustion and pain which he combated with heavy drinking. Each of the other four Temptations did what they could to help Williams, alternating between raiding and draining his alcohol stashes, personal interventions, and keeping oxygen tanks backstage, but Williams' health, as well as the quality of his performances, continued to decline and he refused to see a doctor.
Otis Williams and the other Temptations decided to resort to enlisting an on-hand fill-in for Paul Williams. Richard Street, then-lead singer of fellow Motown act The Monitors and formerly lead singer of The Distants, was hired to travel with The Temptations and sing all of Williams' parts, save for Williams' special numbers such as "Don't Look Back" and "For Once in My Life", from backstage behind a curtain. When Williams was not well enough to go on, Street took his place onstage. In April 1971, Williams was finally persuaded to go see a doctor. The doctor found a spot on Williams' liver and advised him to retire from the group altogether. Williams left the group and Street became his permanent replacement. In support of helping Williams get back on his feet, The Temptations continued to pay Williams his same one-fifth share of the group's earnings, and kept Williams on their payroll as an advisor and choreographer, and Williams continued to help the group with routines and dance moves for the next two years.
By early 1973, Williams made his return to Motown's Hitsville USA recording studios, and began working on solo material. Kendricks, who had quit the Temptations just before Williams left, produced and co-wrote Williams' first single, "Feel Like Givin' Up", which was to have been issued on Motown's Gordy imprint with "Once You Had a Heart" as its b-side. However, after Williams' death was ruled a suicide in August 1973, Motown decided to shelve the sides, because the song "Feel Like Givin' Up" was just too literal to bear and the single was not released.
On August 17, 1973, Paul Williams was found dead in an alley in a car having just left the new house of his then-girlfriend after an argument. A gun was found near his body. His death was ruled a suicide by the coroner; Williams had expressed suicidal thoughts to Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin months before his death.
Williams' funeral was held on August 24, with his family and former bandmates in attendance. He was survived by his wife, Mary Agnes Williams, and five children: Sarita, Kenneth, Paula, Mary and Paul Jr. Paul Jr later joined a Temptations splinter group, The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards. Williams also had three other children, Paul Williams Lucas, Anthony Johnson, and Derrick Vinyard, with three girlfriends. Williams is buried at Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery, Clinton Township, Macomb County, Michigan in Lot 275, Grave #4, Section #G.
The circumstances surrounding Williams' death caused the Williams family to suspect that some form of foul play was the actual cause of Williams' death. According to the coroner, Williams had used his right hand to shoot himself on the left side of his head. In addition, a bottle of alcohol was found near Williams' left side, as if he had dropped it while being shot. The gun used in the shooting was found to have fired two shots, only one of which had killed Williams.
As a member of the Temptations, Paul Williams was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013. Both of his solo recordings were later released by Motown on Temptations-related compilations in the 1980s and 1990s.
Complete lead vocals with the Temptations
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Paul Williams' vocals were featured on the following Temptations songs:
- Ribowsky, Mark (2010). Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of the Temptations. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-26117-0. Pg. 9-14
- Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
- Ankeny, Jason. "Artist Biography — The Temptations". All Music Guide. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
- Ribowsky, Mark (2010). Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of the Temptations. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-26117-0. Pg. 237-248
- Snell, Robert (June 25, 2011). "Temptations heir sues sister over lost royalties". The Detroit News.
- Williams, Otis and Patricia Romanowski (1988, updated 2002). Temptations. Lanham, MD: Cooper Square. ISBN 0-8154-1218-5.