WITH THE DEATH of Jimmy Ruffin, the ’60s Motown mainstay best known for his tender, emotional reading of What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, music has lost one of its finest and much-loved soul voices. Although he never enjoyed the same degree of success in the ’60s as his younger brother, David, who together with their cousin Melvin Franklin found fame in The Temptations, Ruffin stamped his mark on Motown with a series of stirring solo hits, and experienced a second commercial flourish in 1980 on the RSO label with the pop single Hold On (To My Love).
“His voice was extraordinarily soulful and beautifully controlled.”
During the ’70s, his popularity in Britain as a live act and Motown legend never dwindled, and in the ’80s moved to the UK for several years. It was to the charismatic singer that Paul Weller turned in 1984 to help voice The Style Council’s Soul Deep charity single (released under the banner ‘The Council Collective’), raising money for striking miners.
Jimmy Ruffin was born in 1939 in Collinsville, Mississippi, the son of a minister, and cut his first single on the Motown subsidiary, Miracle, in 1961. But it was after his national service in the US navy that his career took off: passed over for the job of Elbridge Bryant’s replacement in The Temptations after the group heard his younger brother sing, he recorded What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, a song written by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser and James Dean and initially offered to soul group The Spinners.
Ruffin’s extraordinarily soulful but beautifully controlled treatment of the song took it into the Top 10 of both the Billboard and UK charts in summer 1966, kindling a successful three-year chart career that crested with I’ve Passed This Way Before and Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got.
In 1970, to acknowledge the death of their parents, he and brother David collaborated on an album, I Am My Brother’s Keeper, from which their duet of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me was lifted as a single. By that time, David had been sacked from The Temptations and his own star was beginning to wane.
Jimmy’s popularity as a live draw didn’t diminish, however, and in 1980 his voice was still regarded as special and precious enough to snaffle him a contract with RSO. One the label’s stars, Bee Gee Robin Gibb, was chosen as producer and a slick soul-pop album, Sunrise, took shape in Miami and New York. The classic Hold On (To My Love) made it to Number 10 in the UK singles chart.
Following brother David’s death in 1991 after years of substance abuse, Jimmy became an anti-drug campaigner, and continued to perform live.
He died in Las Vegas, on November 17, aged 78, his family announcing his passing with an emotional statement two days later.
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