Known for both his years with the Temptations and his major solo hits of the 1970s, Eddie Kendricks was among the many soul legends who did his part to put Motown Records on the map. The expressive vocalist (who often sang in a falsetto) grew up in Birmingham, AL, but it was Motown's original home of Detroit that made him a star. Kendricks was still living in Alabama in the late '50s, when he formed the Primes with Kell Osborne and Temptation-to-be Paul Williams. After moving from Alabama to Detroit, the Primes caught the attention of a Motor City group known as the Distants (whose members included Tempations-to-be Otis Williams, Elbridge Bryant, and Melvin Franklin). The Primes broke up after being together only a few years, and the Temptations (originally known as the Elgins) were formed when, in 1961, members of the Primes and the Distants came together. With a lineup that included former Primes Kendricks and Paul Williams and former Distants Otis Williams (who was unrelated to Paul), Melvin Franklin, and Elbridge Bryant, the Temptations signed with the little-known Motown subsidiary Miracle. The Temptations (who went through many personnel changes over the years) didn't become successful right away, but by the mid-'60s, they had become huge thanks to such smashes as "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl."
The Temptations enjoyed one mega-hit after another in the mid-to-late '60s, and they were still tremendously popular when Kendricks left to pursue a solo a career in 1971 (the year he sang lead on their hit "Just My Imagination"). Many Temptations fans questioned the wisdom of Kendricks leaving such a successful group, but Kendricks proved to be quite viable as a solo act thanks to early-'70s singles like "Keep on Truckin'" (a number one R&B hit) and "Boogie Down" (which went to number two on the soul charts). Other noteworthy solo hits followed, including "Shoeshine Boy," "Get the Cream Off the Top," and "Happy" in 1975 and "He's a Friend" in 1976. Most of his solo albums came out on Motown, although Kendricks recorded Something More for Arista in 1979 and Love Keys for Atlantic in 1981. By that time, Kendricks' popularity had decreased considerably. The singer wasn't heard from that much in the 1980s, but he did participate in the Artists United Against Apartheid's Sun City project in 1985 and recorded with another former Temptation, David Ruffin, as a duo for RCA in 1988.
Sadly, the 1990s would see the premature deaths of no less than three former members of the Temptations. First, Ruffin died of a cocaine overdose in 1991, followed by the deaths of Kendricks in 1992 and Melvin Franklin (from a brain seizure) in 1995. (Tragedy was nothing new to Temptations members, for Paul Williams had committed suicide back in 1973). Kendricks was only 52 when he died of lung cancer in his native Birmingham on October 5, 1992.