Richard Street: Long-serving singer with the Temptations
Tuesday 26 March 2013
By the time he officially joined the Temptations in 1971, the versatile vocalist Richard Street had been associated with the Motown group and Berry Gordy Jr's label for over a decade.
The first member of the group to be born in Detroit, he had sung with Otis Williams & the Distants, a late-1950s quintet featuring future Temptations founders Melvin Franklin – his cousin – and Otis Williams, the Temps leader and mainstay to this day. He missed out on their merger with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams – no relation – of the Primes in 1961, the arrival of David Ruffin to complete the all-conquering Temps classic line-up of 1964-1968, and watched Dennis Edwards replace Ruffin as lead tenor and help the group continue their run of worldwide hits.
Meanwhile, Street was busy working in the quality-control department at Hitsville USA, Motown's studio base, mentoring the Primettes and fronting the fondly remembered Monitors. In 1969, he began travelling with the Temptations, mostly to cover for Paul Williams, who was battling alcoholism and sickle-cell anaemia. "Before actually going on stage with the guys, I was singing in the wings for three months," Street recalled of the subterfuge involving a dancing and lip-synching Paul Williams.
Street was eventually introduced as Williams' replacement alongside Damon Harris (obituary, 18 February), who took over from Kendricks, and proved an ideal fit with his consummate showmanship and flair for choreography and harmony singing. He lasted until 1992, and encompassed 22 studio albums, including Solid Rock, All Directions and Masterpiece, the hat-trick of landmark releases produced by Norman Whitfield during the group's "psychedelic soul" purple patch. He was also on the Grammy-winning US No 1 single "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone".
He became part of the Temps spine through changing line-ups. "As long as we have a tenor, three leads and Melvin's big bass voice, that's the signature sound people identify with the real Temptations," said Street, who also participated in the septet line-up – featuring Kendricks and Ruffin – who made the Reunion album and the slamming "Standing on the Top" single with Rick James in 1982. He was still there to welcome Ron Tyson, Leonard's replacement, the following year, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, Edwards' excellent sub and the lead singer and co-writer of the group's last substantial hit, the irresistible "Treat Her Like a Lady", in 1984. The year before his departure, he guested with the Temps on the Rod Stewart homage "The Motown Song".
Born in 1942, Street, along with his brother, was raised by their mother after their father left the family. A generous, music-loving woman, she took in Franklin for a while, helping cement a brotherly relationship between the cousins, who started imitating their favourite doo-wop group, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, in 1956, before teaming up with Otis Williams.
Street soon ditched sports to concentrate on music and began playing the piano. He sang lead on the infectious "Come On", a 1960 local hit for the Distants, and a less successful follow-up, "Open Your Heart". He co-wrote "Can You Do It" for The Contours, "Welfare Cheese", a catchy rhythm'n'blues single by Emanuel Lasky, and also issued "Answer Me" with the Distants on Thelma, the label owned by Gordy's first wife.
He then formed the Monitors, a quartet whose six 45s – particularly the minor hits "Say You" and the topical "Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam)", about the Vietnam draft – have become highly collectable. In 1969 he married Carolyn Gill of the Velvelettes.
Street struggled to make much headway as a producer and arranger and seemed stuck at quality control until his recruitment by the Temps. "Being a Temptation wasn't that much pressure for me because I'd always been around Motown," he remarked.
His fluid tenor and smooth baritone blended well with the other four members, to the delight of Whitfield, who enjoyed using four or five vocalists trading leads on tracks like "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" (1971) and "Plastic Man" (1973), and he paired Street with Harris on "Heavenly" (1974).
Jeffrey Bowen adopted the same technique producing "Glasshouse" (from 1975's A Song for You) and pushed Street to the fore on "China Doll" (from 1976's Wings of Love), but the Temps fared less well when they defected to Atlantic. Following their return to Motown in 1980, Street co-wrote several tracks on the albums Power, Back to Basics and To Be Continued… and was present when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, despite not being included in the nomination.
He fell out with Otis Williams after missing a show because of an emergency operation to remove kidney stones in 1992. When the information wasn't relayed to the group's leader, he confronted Street, who decided his lack of concern was no way to treat a friend, and left. He was replaced by Theo Peoples. He continued to perform, and toured the UK last autumn. He had been writing an autobiography, Ball of Confusion. He died of a pulmonary embolism.
"The Temptations songs were message songs of the times, about what was going on with the world," he said last year. "You had to represent your race. People all over the world loved what we did. Back then, we did not have a whole lot of black people to look up to. We did not know we would make such a stir."
Richard Allen Street, singer, songwriter, pianist and producer: born Detroit 5 October 1942; married 1969 Carolyn Gill (divorced 1983, one son); one daughter; married Cynthia (one son, one daughter); died Las Vegas 27 February 2013.
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