David E. Ruffin Bio

Ruffin was born Davis Eli Ruffin on January 18, 1941, in the rural unincorporated community of Whynot, Mississippi, 15 miles from Meridian, Mississippi. He was the third-born son of Elias "Eli" Ruffin, a Baptist minister, and Ophelia Ruffin. His siblings were Quincy B. Ruffin, Reada Mae Ruffin, and Jimmy Lee Ruffin. Ruffin also had another sister Rosine, who died in infancy.


David Ruffin's parents were both natives of Mississippi. His father Eli worked as a truck driver at numerous lumber mills, and his mother Ophelia worked out of their home. Eli's parents had moved from Alabama to Mississippi, because of the harsh circumstances of living after the American Civil War. Prior to living in Alabama, David Ruffin's great grandparents, John Ruffin and Clara Ruffin had moved from Bertie County, North Carolina. John Ruffin was a Civil War Veteran, fighting with the 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment.


As a young child, Ruffin, along with his other siblings (older brothers Quincy and Jimmy, and sister Rita Mae), traveled with their father and their stepmother as a family gospel group, opening shows for Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, among others. Ruffin sang in the choir at Mount Salem Methodist Church, talent shows, and wherever else he could. In 1955, at the age of 14, he left home under the guardianship of a minister, Eddie Bush, and went to Memphis, Tennessee, with the purpose of pursuing the ministry. 


At 15, Ruffin went to Hot Springs, Arkansas, with the jazz musician Phineas Newborn, Sr. There, they played at the Fifty Grand Ballroom and Casino. Billed as Little David Bush, Ruffin continued to sing at talent shows, worked with horses at a jockey club, and eventually became a member of The Dixie Nightingales. He also sang with The Soul Stirrers briefly after the departure of Johnnie Taylor. It was in Ruffin's travels as a teenager that he met such later popular personalities as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon, Bobby Womack, The Staple Singers, Swan Silver tones, and The Dixie Hummingbirds. 


After some of his singing idols such as Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson had left gospel music and gone secular, Ruffin also turned in that direction. The 16-year-old Ruffin met and came under the guardianship of Eddie Bush and his wife Dorothy Helen, who took the teenager to Detroit, Michigan, where his brother Jimmy was pursuing a career in music while simultaneously working at the Ford Motor Company.


After moving to Detroit with the Bushes, Ruffin recorded his first released record with the songs "You and I" (1958) b/w "Believe Me" (1958). These songs were recorded at Vega Records and released under the name "Little David Bush", using the last name of his guardian. Ruffin would later recall how he initially recorded "a different kind of music", strongly influenced by the smoother pop and R&B of the time, when he first recorded in Detroit for Vega. 


In 1957, Ruffin met Berry Gordy Jr., then a songwriter with ambitions of running his own label. Ruffin lived with Gordy's father, a contractor, and helped "Pops" Gordy do construction work on the building that would become HITSVILLE USA, the headquarters for Gordy's Tamla Records (later Motown Records) label. Ruffin's brother Jimmy would eventually be signed to Tamla's Miracle Records label as an artist. 


Ruffin also worked alongside another ambitious singer, Marvin Gaye, as an apprentice at Anna Records, a Chess-distributed label run by Gordy's sister Gwen Gordy Fuqua and his songwriting partner Billy Davis. 


Asked about Ruffin in the Detroit Free Press in 1988, Gordy Fuqua said: "He was very much a gentleman, yes ma'am and no ma'am, but the thing that really impressed me about David was that he was one of the only artists I've seen who rehearsed like he was on stage. According to Ruffin, both he and Gaye would pack records for Anna Records. 


Ruffin created music as both the vocalist and drummer in the Voice Masters, a doo-wop style combo, and eventually started recording at Anna Records, and recorded the song "I'm in Love" b/w "One of These Days" (1961), with the Voice Masters, a group which included future Motown producer, Lamont Dozier. Other group members included members of The Originals: Ty Hunter, CP Spencer, Hank Dixon, and (Voice Masters and The Originals founder) Walter Gaines. (At one time, The Voice Masters also included another future Temptations member, Melvin Franklin, one of the numerous people David would claim as a cousin).  


Ruffin eventually met an up-and-coming local group by the name of The Temptations. His older brother Jimmy went on a Motortown Revue tour with the Temptations, and he told David that they needed someone to sing tenor in their group. David shared his interest in joining the group with Otis Williams who lived very close to Ruffin in Detroit. 


In January 1964, Ruffin became a member of the Temptations after founding member Elbridge "Al" Bryant was fired from the group. Ruffin's first recording session with the group was January 9, 1964. Though both David and Jimmy were considered, David was given the edge, thanks to his performance skills. These were displayed when he joined the Temptations on stage during the label's New Year's Eve party in 1963.


After joining the Temptations, the bespectacled Ruffin initially sang backgrounds while the role of lead singer mostly alternated between Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. He did sing a few lead parts, both on stage and in the studio, during his first year with the group, but his leads on these studio tracks would not be released for over a year, as they were not considered good enough to showcase his vocals. However, Smokey Robinson, who produced and co-wrote most of the Temptations' material at this point, saw Ruffin during this period as a "sleeping giant" in the group with a unique voice that was "mellow" yet "gruff." Robinson thought that if he could write just the 'perfect song' for Ruffin's voice, then he could have a smash hit. The song was to be something that Ruffin could "belt out" yet something that was also "melodic and sweet". When Robinson achieved his goal, the song, "My Girl", was recorded in November 1964 and released a month later. It became the group's first number-one single in 1965. "My Girl" subsequently became the Temptations' signature song, and elevated Ruffin to the role of lead singer and front man. 


The follow-ups to "My Girl" were also extremely successful singles, and included the Ruffin-led hits "It's Growing" (1965), "Since I Lost My Baby" (1965), "My Baby" (1965), "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (1966), "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" (1966), "(I Know) I'm Losing You" (1966), "All I Need" (1967), "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need" (1967), "I Wish It Would Rain" (1967), and "I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)" (1968). Ruffin also shared lead vocals on the 1967 hit single "You're My Everything" with Eddie Kendricks. The tall, 6'3", Ruffin's passionate and dramatic performances endeared him to the Temptations' audiences and fans. According to Otis Williams, Ruffin (playfully nicknamed "Ruff" by the group) was a natural comedian and a hard-working singer when he first joined the group. 


Ruffin's most notable non-vocal contribution to the Temptations was the masterminding of their trademark four-headed microphone stand. This enabled the other members to sing and do their dances without having to crowd around one microphone while the lead singer would sing into a separate microphone.


Ruffin left the Temptations in the spring of 1968 for his solo career with his 1st smash hit "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)". The single (from the album also entitled My Whole World Ended) was released in 1969 and reached the US Pop and R&B Top Ten. This was followed by the album Feelin' Good. A third album, titled David, was recorded in 1970–71, but was shelved by Motown and did not see commercial release until 2004. 


His final Top Ten hit was 1975's "Walk Away from Love", produced by Van McCoy, which reached number nine on the Pop Charts. It was also Ruffin's only entry into the UK Charts (as a solo artist), and was a hit there as well, making it into the Top Ten (peaking at #10) in early 1976. The single sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in February 1976.


Ruffin passed away on June 1, 1991, Ruffin was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2008. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and in 2013 into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame for his work with The Temptations and as a solo artist


In June 2019, the city of Detroit unveiled "David Ruffin Avenue" as the secondary street name where he formerly lived at 17385 Parkside. The ceremony was hosted by the founder LaMont Robinson of the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. It was attended by Ruffin’s family and friends including Martha Reeves and Mary Wilson. Also in 2019, a street was named in honor of Ruffin in his hometown of Meridian Mississippi, a street downtown.