Archive for Singers

Ronnie White

Posted in Woodlawn Cemetery (MI) with tags , , , on September 26, 2022 by Cade

April 5, 1939 – August 26, 1995

As a founding member of the first successful group at Motown Records, Ronald “Ronnie” White’s place in American music history was solidified early on, even if he didn’t always get the recognition. In 1955, White – along with childhood friend, William “Smokey” Robinson – formed the vocal group that would eventually become the Miracles. When Berry Gordy was founding Tamla records in Detroit, the Miracles auditioned for him having found little interest from other labels. Gordy signed the group to the label that became Motown. The Miracles had their first hit with 1960’s “Shop Around.”

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David Ruffin

Posted in Woodlawn Cemetery (MI) with tags , , , on September 5, 2022 by Cade

January 18, 1941 – June 1, 1991

Arguably one of the most iconic voices in American music, David Eli Ruffin spent his youth singing with his family in his native Mississippi and throughout the south. When he was 16, he followed his older brother, Jimmy, to Detroit; both with eyes on becoming recording artists. David met Berry Gordy and was able to work and record with minor labels in the area, but he failed to break through. Brother Jimmy was finding some moderate success as a solo artist and would often invite David onstage to perform with him. Jimmy caught a break by joining the Motortown Revue tour alongside acts like Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. David spent time on the tour and got to know the Temps well and in 1964 – when they had to fire Al Bryant from the group – they offered him a job.

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Obie Benson

Posted in Woodlawn Cemetery (MI) with tags , , , on August 29, 2022 by Cade

June 14, 1936 – July 1, 2005

The bass singer for the legendary Motown vocal group, the Four Tops, Renaldo “Obie” Benson was much more than just a background singer. The Four Tops formed in the 1950s and bounced around a couple of record labels before landing with Motown in 1963 and launching a stellar stretch of hits including #1 singles “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”.

Benson acted as choreographer during the group’s early years. And the Tops’ extensive work with Motown house songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland peaked his interest as in writing songs as well.

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Jackie Wilson

Posted in Westlawn Cemetery with tags , on August 22, 2022 by Cade

June 9, 1934 – January 21, 1984

A common thread for musicians who grew up on the streets of 1950s Detroit was that you had two choices as a young person: join a gang or join a singing group. Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. – known as “Sonny” or “Jackie” – opted for both. He served time in juvenile detention a couple of times, learned to box and took up drinking alcohol as a teenager. All the while, he found that, despite the fact that he wasn’t particularly religious, he enjoyed singing with other kids in church. Jackie was able to find work singing in clubs around Detroit and eventually landed a record deal with Brunswick records where he became one of the great pioneers of the burgeoning Rhythm & Blues wave that was about to sweep the nation.

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Florence Ballard

Posted in Detroit Memorial Park East with tags , , , on August 8, 2022 by Cade

June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976

A powerful voice. Immense ambition. A tragic life. These are often the foundations for the most compelling stories.

Florence Ballard had all three. The happy-go-lucky teenager in Detroit met a kindred during high school in the form of fellow singer, Mary Wilson. The two met at a talent show and would eventually both join the new sister act to the Primes – a local group consisting of future-Temptations Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. Ballard, Wilson, Betty McGowan and Diana Ross – as the Primettes – enjoyed some local success and turned their eyes on a Motown contract. Berry Gordy liked what he saw but encouraged them to A) finish high school and B) change their name. Florence suggested they call themselves the “Supremes.”

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Bobby Rogers

Posted in Woodlawn Cemetery (MI) with tags , , , on July 25, 2022 by Cade

February 19, 1940 – March 3, 2013

On February 19, 1940, in a north Detroit hospital, two future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were born. William “Smokey” Robinson and Robert Rogers not only shared the same start, but several years later, they helped launch one of the biggest movements in popular music history as members of Motown Record’s first hit group: the Miracles.

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Levi Stubbs

Posted in Woodlawn Cemetery (MI) with tags , , , on July 18, 2022 by Cade

June 6, 1936 – October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs lived most of his life in Detroit. It was a fortunate coincidence that the Motor City became the hotbed of R&B music during the time when Stubbs and friends, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton were performing together as the Four Aims. The group signed with Chess records, changed their name to the Four Tops and went on to become one of the biggest selling acts for Motown Records. Stubbs’s soulful voice was the centerpiece of all of the Four Tops’ biggest hits.

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Paul Williams

Posted in Lincoln Memorial Park with tags , , , on July 11, 2022 by Cade

July 2, 1939 – August 17, 1973

Paul Williams was a founding member of the legendary Motown vocal group, the Temptations. Williams grew up in Alabama and began his singing career with childhood friend, Eddie Kendricks. The two formed a singing group and – though they never recorded – found enough success to get noticed in the booming R&B scene of 1960’s Detroit. After losing their manager and essentially disbanding their group, Williams and Kendricks were approached by rival Detroit singing group, The Elgins, and asked to join. The five members decided to forge ahead as equal partners in the new group and sought out a much-desired contract with Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. Once they settled on the new name, the Temptations, Gordy signed them and they got to work. Continue reading

Cassie Gaines

Posted in Jacksonville Memory Gardens with tags , , on May 16, 2022 by Cade

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January 9, 1948 – October 20, 1977

Cassie Gaines enjoyed a typical childhood in Miami, Oklahoma. She was a cheerleader in high school and was known for her school spirit and for performing on stage. A love for performing led her to a career as a singer, ultimately landing an invitation to join the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd as one of their three backing singers…collectively known as “The Honkettes.”

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Ronnie Van Zant

Posted in Jacksonville Memory Gardens, Riverside Memorial Park with tags , , , , on April 25, 2022 by Cade

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January 15, 1948 – October 20, 1977

Ronnie Van Zant was the oldest of three musical brothers from Jacksonville, Florida. In high school, Ronnie formed a band with classmates Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Bob Burns and Larry Junstrom. The band changed names a couple of times before landing on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd – a tounge-in-cheek nod to their gym teacher, Leonard Skinner. Van Zant served as the singer and primary lyricist. Continue reading