singin mf

Quite simply, when it comes to high tenors, Eddie James Kendricks represents the apex.  The point where the art of the falsetto/high tenor in quartet gospel, doo-wop, and soul groups reached its utmost point of perfection.  That falsetto was round and bell-like.  It could lull a baby to sleep, it could make a woman go mad, it could make a boy take to the streets and sing for hours trying to emulate it.  Prior to him there were cats like Clyde McPhatter, Maithe Marshall (the Ravens), Johnny Carter and any number of doo-wop group falsettos.  He influenced all of the Philly cats (though none of them maintained the masculine, non-saccharine edge that he had) and most certainly influenced Phillip Bailey.  But let it be known, no one surpasses Eddie for finesse, skill and appeal.  I had to stop and pay homage to the man that sang so sweet.  Happy Birthday, Eddie.

For a man with as many reinventions as Michael Jackson had over the span of his abbreviated life, people remember him in a variety of ways.  But on this day, I want to remember him like this, a young man who had already made a permanent mark on the world with his precociously soulful voice on those initial J5 hits but yet his greatest days were ahead of him. This picture touches me because of his contemplative look; at this early age, the prodigy was clearly in command of his talents.  This is Michael, forever young, always hungry, always searching.  Thank you, MJ.  Simply, thank you.

I don’t remember “discovering” David Ruffin.  He was just always there.  I probably heard him for the first time in utero.  As a child, I loved him as the jaunty romantic loverboy that he played in many a Smokey Robinson uptempo Motown hit with the Temptations.  As a full-grown woman, I find that the darker, lovelorn side of David speaks to me.  The aching ballads like “You’ll Lose a Precious Love” (with the Temptations) and his smoldering solo cover of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ “I Miss You” began to resonate with me more as I experienced love and life in profound ways.  It’s always an intimate thing, growing with an artist.  I can recall just days ago, tearing up as I listened to Gentleman Ruffin sing “Now That You’ve Won Me.”  I found myself nodding, identifying with his plea to the one that has won his heart to “keep on kissing me day and night/don’t you ever change/keep on holding me tight, baby/don’t you dare stop acting strange/now that you’ve won me.”

The best of artists provide catharsis.  The most compelling artists invite you to live their story.  But the greatest ones can have a dialogue long after they have transitioned from corporeal existence.  I am listening to David.  We are talking riiight now.  That is what places David Ruffin into the pantheon of soul.  Happy Birthday, D-Ruff.