If you're not a Temptations fan, you should be. This is a group where every singer has a unique tone and style, yet they blend so well together and any of the five singers can take a lead. The original (or "Classic 5") lineup of The Temptations included the gravely-voiced David Ruffin, baritone Paul Williams, baritone/second tenor Otis Williams, bass singer Melvin Franklin and Eddie Kendricks singing the first tenor/falsetto parts. With their sharp outfits and graceful choreography, The Temptations were excellent showmen and considered by some to be the first "boy band." Their harmonies were unmistakable, featuring Melvin's thunderous bass voice on the bottom with Eddie's delicate falsetto on top.
Eddie's departure from the group is what opened the opportunity for Damon Harris to join. Born Otis Robert Harris Jr in July 1950, Damon was a huge fan of Motown while growing up. But no one had an impact on him more than Eddie Kendricks. He developed a pure falsetto singing voice that was a spot-on impersonation of his idol and sung in different vocal groups as a teenager. In 1971, Damon, who lived in Baltimore, heard from a friend that the Tempts were at a hotel in Washington and were looking for a new tenor. Even though Washington is 45 minutes south of Baltimore, Damon made it there in 15.
Damon auditioned for the group and was immediately well-liked by everyone but Otis, who at first spoke out against Damon out of frustration. During Damon's audition, Otis sat turned away from the frustrated 20 year-old with his chin tucked into his palm. "I didn't know whether he was going to laugh or not," said Damon. "I got mad and consequently, I sang the hell out of the song." Damon was voted into the group, where he nervously addressed everyone as "Mr. Williams," "Mr. Franklin," "Mr. Street," and "Mr. Edwards" until Otis jokingly told him to stop. (Upon joining the group, Damon decided not to use his real name because the Tempts already had a member named Otis).
It took a while for the young singer to get over his jitters. "I was shocked," he once said. "I felt undeserving. It was Eddie's position." Though the other Temptations were a decade older than him, Harris caught on well with the dance moves and blended in with the group's sound because of his uncanny impersonation of Kendricks.
By 1975, Damon was not the sweet and easygoing guy he was when he first joined The Temptations. According to Otis Williams, Damon developed a bad attitude and talked back not just to Williams, but Motown Founder Berry Gordy, Jr. "I do not like his attitude," Berry told Otis. "You all get rid of him." The other Tempts' patience finally ran out when Damon made arrogant statements onstage during a concert. "The change that came over him was caused by the usual thing: the inability to deal with suddenly having money and being a star," Otis said in his memoirs. "A couple times we tried to talk to him, but nothing seemed to penetrate."
For his part, Damon was shocked that the ride ended so quickly and suddenly. "I’ve only just recently learned why,” Damon said several years ago. “I always thought it was something I said to Motown’s Berry Gordy. Turns out it was a problem with Otis that I had no clue even existed. I was crushed. I kept asking myself what I was going to do now. I had a new marriage and a new son to support. I wanted to be a Temptation until I got old. I was on the top of the world and then, brutally and without warning, at 25 I was yesterday’s news.”
As new Temptation Glenn Leonard filled Damon's shoes in The Temptations, Damon joined the group Impact but they broke up after two albums that failed to make a splash. In 1978 he released his only solo album, Silk. The album consisted of breezy, light pop tracks that fit Damon's ethereal falsetto to a tee. Listen to the title track and hear it for yourself.
During the late 1970s, Damon ran into his idol Eddie Kendricks and surprisingly found himself angry at his hero. Damon didn't hesitate to speak his mind. "I told him, 'Eddie, you should have never left the group. You took something from me as a fan.'"
Damon's father died from prostate cancer eight months after he left The Temptations. Harris discovered that he had the same condition during the late 90's and succumbed to it a few hours ago. “Look, cancer is what it is. I know my time is now very short, and I’m just thankful to have God and to be able to somehow have the care that I have,” he said in December. He was disillusioned about the possibility of death, even refusing to reach out for help from Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder or anyone else from his musical past. "I’m realistic," he said. "You can say you hope to see me here in five years, but I’m telling you I don’t expect that. I’m preparing as best as I can.”
The parallels between Damon Harris and Eddie Kendricks are shockingly alike, but they don't end with their similar voices and success with The Temptations; at times both men had issues with Motown, Gordy, and Otis. They both bravely fought cancer until they couldn't fight it anymore. Over 30 years of chain smoking resulted in lung cancer for Kendricks. After getting a lung removed, Eddie briefly thought he beat it but the cancer had already spread to the other lung. I've read that Eddie used to educate young people on the hazards of smoking before his death. Similarly, Damon Harris founded the The Damon Harris Cancer Foundation to help spread the awareness of prostate cancer. He tells his story in the video below.
Damon once said, "I am to Eddie Kendricks what Harry Connick is to Frank Sinatra or what Sugar Ray Leonard was to Muhammad Ali. As I sing, Eddie lives."