Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Otis Williams

By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Senior National
Correspondent

The scintillating Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” have plenty of highlights – perhaps too many to recount for a review or feature news article.

The two-and-a-half-hour masterpiece provided a microscopic view of the group from the lens of Otis Williams, the founder and only living member of The Temptations.

And for those who may have seen the 1998 television miniseries “The Temptations” and believe you already know the story – you may have to reconsider and take in the Broadway show that reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered production.

Perhaps the one line in the Broadway production that best sums up the global impact of the Temptations come near the end when Nik Walker, who portrays the legendary Williams, reflects that “The only thing that lives forever is the music.”

 

Otis WIlliams (Photo via NNPA)

Indeed, the music has lived on, even as Williams has gone through 24 members after the departures and deaths of the Classic Five original members, including Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin.

“I hope that the music is the same kind of soothing ointment for people today,” Williams, 80, told the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) in an exclusive interview on stage at the Imperial Theater.

“When they gave me the book on the musical, I said, ‘Oh, this is getting ready to be real,’” Williams recounted.

“Then when the director said that they were only going to let Otis see the first part and not the second part, I said ‘Oh, I’m getting ready to lose people.’”

Williams spent much of the week with the NNPA, beginning with a star-studded Red-Carpet event on Saturday, October 16.

NDG 10/14: At least four Black females were murdered each day in 2020

On Monday, October 18, Williams invited the NNPA for a chat on stage, and on Tuesday, he took in the show seated alongside NNPA staff, including NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

Williams and Temptations manager Shelly Berger, who has been with the group since its inception, shared insights.

The pair shed light on the group’s formation and how they became the biggest R&B act in music history.

“I knew what was going to happen to the Temptations before anyone,” stated Berger, who also managed The Supremes.

“I saw them, and I said they were beyond words. They’ve got to be the biggest stars in this business,” Berger recalled.

The Brooklyn, New York-born Berger, and the Texarkana, Texas- native Williams, hit it off almost instantly.

Berger remembered that he only received static from David Ruffin.

The musical reveals substance and other problems that sadly would lead to his demise.
Ultimately, the focus is Williams. And if honesty qualifies as a prerequisite for a Tony Award, then ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ should score dozens of more nominations.

Williams opens up about his late son, Lamont, whom he spent little time with because of his dedication to the Temptations.

Constantly on the road and in the studio, Williams neglects to spend time with Lamont.
When Lamont grows up, the young man explains to his dad that the time lost cannot be returned. Tragically, Lamont died after an accident at the construction site he worked.

Still, it’s the Temptations’ story that packed the Imperial Theater on an idyllic fall Tuesday night in New York.

With a demanding but genius boss, Berry Gordy, an unassuming and dedicated manager, Berger, and what Williams called “the five most singing brothers ever,” the Temptations came of age during the volatile 1960s.

Staring down racism, Berger and Williams recalled how the Temptations had written in their contract that they wouldn’t perform to any segregated crowds.

“Not only would the Temptations not going on stage, but the contract stipulated that you still had to pay them,” Berger stated.

Williams recalled playing in the South circa 1965 or 1966 to a mixed audience. Half the crowd is African American, the other half white.

A rope separated the crowd, but the music united them.

“We came back later that year, and there was no more rope. Instead, the audience were high-fiving each other and having a great time together,” Williams noted. “That’s the power of music,” he insisted.

On April 4, 1968, the Temptations prepared to take the stage for a concert in Baltimore, Maryland, when the public address announcer revealed startling news.

“Just before we were to go on, this announcement goes over the public address system that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis,” Williams recalled.

“We were like, how in the heck are we supposed to go on? People were crying, we had tears coming down our faces, but we went on. And you know what? It helped take their minds off it at that moment. Music,” Williams said.

Adding to the sting of Dr. King’s death was that an assassin murdered the civil rights icon at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis and in the same room Williams regularly stayed while touring.

“I saw on television that it was the Lorraine,” Williams remarked.

“We stayed there all the time because it was the only hotel in Memphis where Black people could stay, and that room was where I would stay. We could no longer stay there; we’d only drive by and look.”

Throughout their record-setting career, the Temptations released such transformative hits as “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” and “Just My Imagination.”

The musical reveals that another global hit, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” hit too close to home for some members.

The Norman Whitfield-Barrett Strong produced song struck a chord, particularly with Dennis Edwards. After a near four-minute instrumental introduction, Edwards sings, “It was September 3/That day I’ll always remember/cause that was the day/ that my daddy died.”
Edwards objected because he said his father died on September 3.

Ain’t Too Proud handles that scene in a humorous but sensitive manner.

The musical will tour the country, while The Temptations have again hit the road with the Four Tops and others to celebrate their 60th anniversary.

And at 80 years old, Otis Williams remains music’s most dynamic force.

He isn’t showing signs of slowing, either.
“Let’s do it,” Williams exclaimed.

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