David Ruffin Biography- Professional Life, Facts & Way of Life Before Death

The most popular performer of soul music of the 1960s and 70s was David Ruffin, an American soul singer who rose to fame as one of the lead singers of the Temptations. If you want to know about his entire life then stick to this page.

At the time of his death, his net worth was $150 thousand. Ruffin was famous for being part of the Temptations musical group during their “Classic Five” era.

David also released 10 solo albums, an album with his brother Jimmy called “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” and the album “Ruffin & Kendrick” with Eddie Kendrick, and he was featured on the Hall & Oates album “Live at the Apollo.”

His achievement includes his debuted solo album, “My Whole World Ended,” which reached #1 on the “Billboard” R&B Albums chart and #31 on the “Billboard” 200 charts. Ruffin also served as lead singer for the Temptation’s singles Ain’t Too Proud to Beg and My Girl.

He was notorious for his rough tenor vocals; in 2008, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #65 on its “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” list. Moreover, he was also initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with the Temptations. At 50 years, Ruffin died on June 1, 1991.

“We should not clap our hands and mourn, for he is out of trouble. You are still in it.”

Personal Profile

NameDavis Eli Ruffin
Nick NameLittle David Bus, Ruff, The Temptations
D.O.BJanuary 18, 1941
Place of birthWhynot, Mississippi, U.S
DeathJune 1, 1991 (Age 50)
ProfessionSinger, Musician
ChildrenCheryl RuffinNedra RuffinKimberly Ruffin-JonesDavid Ruffin Jr.

Who is David Ruffin?

Ruffin belonged to the rural unincorporated community of Whynot, Mississippi. Ruffin began writing songs when he was a teenager. He sang in Memphis talent shows before eventually signing with Motown Records and joining the Temptations.

With Ruffin at the wheel, the Temptations hit it big with such songs as “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” before Ruffin’s drug use caused the band to collapse and fire him.

Ruffin found infrequent success as a solo artist, but he experienced a hard path. He passed away from a cocaine overdose two years after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Childhood & Early Career

Ruffin childhood
Ruffin childhood

David Eli Ruffin was born to Elias Eli Ruffin, a Baptist minister, and Ophelia Ruffin. He was the third son of his parents and had siblings: Quincy B. Ruffin, Reada Mae Ruffin, and Jimmy Lee Ruffin. Ruffin also had another sister Rosine, who died in early life.

After ten months after his birth, Ruffin’s mother died from complications, and his father remarried Earline, a school teacher, in 1942.

As a young child, Ruffin and his other siblings moved with their father and stepmother as a family gospel group, opening shows for Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, among others. Ruffin sang in the Mount Salem Methodist Church choir, talent shows, and wherever else he could. 

In 1955, at 14, he left home under the custody of a minister, Eddie Bush, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to track a career in ministry. But soon, he realized that he could do singing.

At 15, with the jazz musician Phineas Newborn, Sr Ruffin went to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Then, they performed at the Fifty Grand Ballroom and Casino.

He even started writing songs as a teenager and then moved from talent shows into a true singing career with brother Jimmy, and ultimately became a member of the Dixie Nightingales, a home certainty group.

 He also sang with The Soul Stirrers in brief after the exit of Johnnie Taylor. During teenage in his activities, he met later trendy musicians such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon, Bobby Womack, The Staple Singers, Swan Silvertones, and The Dixie Hummingbirds.

He was always portrayed as a real showman on stage, and his act illustrated attention from both gospel crowds and temporal music professionals.

Breakthrough-The Temptation

David Ruffin the Temptation
David Ruffin the Temptation

Before moving to Detroit, Ruffin was temporarily signed to Chicago’s Chess Records at age 17, where he met Berry Gordy, the initiator of Motown Records.

Before moving to Detroit at age 17, Ruffin was briefly signed to Chicago’s Chess Records, where he met Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records.

In the 1960s, David and his brother engaged in singing competitions at the Temptation member Otis Williams’s house.

Ruffin started his professional career under producers Harvey Fuqua and Berry Gordy at Anna Records, a Detroit company. He recorded an album with the Voice Masters and signed with a Motown supplementary, but the music didn’t comprehend.

Ruffin’s first solo release was I’m In Love/One Of These Days for the Anna label. He followed this release with two singles on another Detroit-based label, Check-Mate, written by noted rhythm and blues composer Billy Davis.

In 1963, he got his first breakthrough when he was selected to substitute Eldridge Bryant as a tone singer in the Temptations.

In 1965, Ruffin got the verbal lead on hits such as My Girl, and I Wish It Would Rain, and Ain’t Too Proud to Beg in the background for the first year and a half.

The band flies off by appearing on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show while becoming stars on the international music scene. His brother Jimmy also contacted Motown records and had a breakout song with What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.

When he demanded certain rights that were not afforded to the other members of the group and wanted the group’s name to be changed to David Ruffin and the Temptations, as had been done with Diana Ross and the Supremes, he was officially considered out of control, and the band fired him in June 1968.

Solo Albums

Ruffin was still under agreement with Motown Records when he left the Temptations, and he went on a solo career, finding some accomplishment with “My Whole World Ended” in 1969.

But the sensation was short-lived, and Ruffin dropped out of the music business for three years, emerging in 1975 with a top 10 single, “Walk Away From Love,” and a few minor hits.

In 1979, he joined Warner Bros. After exiting Motown, but in its place of a new beginning, it marked the beginning of the end for Ruffin.

Ruffin was briefly jailed for tax evasion in the early 1980s; it also saw him join the Temptations 1983 reunion tour. However, Ruffin missed the first three shows of the tour as his old partying ways had returned with revenge.

Regardless, the tour led to the emergence of the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks at an impressive New York Apollo Theater concert with longtime fans of Hall and Oates. Ruffin and Kendricks also attended Hall and Oates at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia.

Collaborative Albums

Ruffin Albums
Ruffin Albums

In 1982, Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks re-joined the Temptations to record their album Reunion and a tour to prop up the album. The album included the R&B hit Standing on the Top with Rick James.

The reunion tour was short-lived, as Ruffin started to miss shows due to his cocaine addiction, which led the group to be fined thousands of dollars. Hence, Otis Williams fired Ruffin from the group for the second and final time by Christmas 1982.

Ruffin started touring with Kendricks as a pair act in 1985. The same year, longtime Temptations fans Hall & Oates teamed up with Ruffin and Kendrick to perform at the re-opening of the Apollo Theater in New York. Their concert was released as a victorious live album and single. On July 13, 1985, the four singers sang an assortment of Temptations hits at Live Aid.

 In 1985, a live medley of The Way You Do the Things You Do and My Girl was released by Hall & Oates featuring Ruffin and Kendrick. It attained the rank of #20 on the Billboard Hot 100, #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and #40 on the R&B chart.

  John Oates later wrote a minor hit single for Ruffin and Kendrick, but the set of two was knocked out, purportedly because of Daryl Hall’s opposition to Ruffin’s heavy drug use.

In 1989, after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Temptations, Ruffin, Kendrick, and Dennis Edwards started touring and recording as “Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards: Former Leads of The Temptations.”

In 1991, they completed a successful month-long tour of England, which grossed nearly $300,000. At the time of his death, they were planning a European tour. He recorded the single Hurt the One You Love for Motorcity Records.

Trendy Songs

Solo performances

  • I’m In Love, Anna, 1961.
  • Action Speaks Louder Than Words, Check-Mate, 1961.
  • Knock You Out, Check-Mate, 1962.
  • My Whole World Ended, Motown, 1969.
  • I’ve Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved, Motown, 1969.
  • I’m So Glad I Fell For You, Motown, 1969.
  • Stand By Me, Soul, 1970.
  • When My Love Hand Comes Down, Soul, 1971.
  • Don’t Stop Loving Me, Motown, 1971.
  • You Can Come Right Back To Me, Motown, 1971.
  • A Little More Trust, Motown, 1972.
  • Blood Donors Needed, Motown, 1973.
  • Common Man, Motown, 1973.
  • Me And Rock ‘n’ Roll, Motown, 1974.
  • Superstar, Motown, 1975.
  • Walk Away From Love, Motown, 1975.
  • Heavy Love, Motown, 1976.
  • Everything’s Coming Up Love, Motown, 1976.
  • On And Off, Motown, 1976.
  • Just Let Me Hold You For A Night, Motown, 1977.
  • You’re My Peace Of Mind, Motown, 1978.
  • Break My Heart, Warner, 1979.
  • I Get Excited, Warner, 1979.
  • Slow Dance, Warner, 1980.
  • Still In Love With You, Warner, 1980.
  • A Nite At The Apollo Live! The Way You Do The Things You Do or My Girl, RCA, 1985.
  • I Couldn’t Believe It, RCA, 1987.
  • One More For The Lonely Hearts Club, RCA, 1988.


  • My Whole World Ended, Motown, 1969.
  • Feelin’ Good, Motown, 1969.
  • I Am My Brother’s Keeper, Soul, 1970, David Ruffin, Motown, 1973.
  • Me And Rock ‘n’ Roll Are Here To Stay, Motown, 1974.
  • Who I Am, Motown, 1975.
  • Everything’s Coming Up Love, Motown, 1976.
  • In My Stride, Motown, 1977.
  • At His Best, Motown, 1978.
  • So Soon We Change, Warner, 1979.
  • Gentleman Ruffin, Warner, 1980.
  • Live At The Apollo With David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, RCA, 1985.
  • Ruffin and Kendrick, RCA, 1988.
  • At His Best, Motown, 1991.


In 2013, the Temptations were flattered with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and Ruffin’s children accepted the award on his behalf.

In the following year, David was posthumously inducted into Cleveland State University’s Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Temptations and a solo artist.

He was initiated into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame also. In 2019, the section of Parkside in Detroit between Seven Mile and McNichols was renamed “David Ruffin Avenue,” and Meridian, Mississippi, renamed a section of 8th Street “David Ruffin Boulevard.” He also received a star on Mississippi’s Arts + Entertainment Experience Walk of Fame.

Personal Life

Ruffin was married to Sandra Barnes in 1961, with whom he had three daughters, Cheryl, Nedra, and Kimberly. 

In 1964, he met a long-term girlfriend, Genna Sapia, and had a son. She named their son David E. Sapia, but Ruffin soon after changed his name to David Eli Ruffin, Jr. The three lived together for years.

 In 1976, Ruffin married Joy Hamilton. After Ruffin’s demise, Sapia would add Ruffin to her last name to praise their relationship and for permanence with her son. Sapia-Ruffin published A Memoir; David Ruffin–My Temptation, which details Ruffin’s disloyalty and abusive behavior in 2003.

In 1966, Ruffin started dating Tammi Terrell after she joined the Motortown variety show, opening for the Temptations. They had a chaotic relationship.

Ruffin surprised her with a marriage proposal, but after she announced their engagement live, she learned he was already married. Ruffin became progressively more violent towards Terrell as his drug abuse got worse.

Then, Terrell ended their relationship in 1967 after Ruffin hit her head with his motorcycle helmet.  However, she had suffered from migraines since her upbringing.

Terrell told Ebony magazine in 1969 that her emotional state during this relationship contributed to her headaches. She passed away from a brain tumor in 1970.


david ruffin death
david ruffin death

Since 1989, Ruffin had been living in Philadelphia at the time of his death with his girlfriend Diane Showers, who met him as a 14-year-old fan.

In 1989, Ruffin was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with five additional Temptations. Just two years later, Ruffin, at 50 years of age, would fall in a Philadelphia break house. After hours, he was dropped off in front of a hospital, where he passed away from a drug overdose.

Ruffin’s memorial service was held at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. However, surviving members of the Temptations sang My Girl. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin also sang at the funeral.  Michael Jackson volunteered to pay for the funeral expenses but did not attend the service.

Jackson, Rod Stewart, Daryl Hall, John Oates, Diana Ross, the Spinners,  Martha Reeves, and Vandellas sent floral arrangements. Ruffin is obscured in section three at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Drug Addiction & Legal Issues

Ruffin legal issues
Ruffin legal issues

Ruffin first wanted treatment for his drug addiction in 1967. In 1978, Ruffin was detained at a birthday party in Memphis. He was charged with wild conduct for refusing several requests to leave the area after he purportedly made intimidation some policemen and their families while being elated to jail. Ruffin was deprived of making threats and was released on his recognition.

In 1982, Ruffin was charged $5,000 and verdict to six months in a low-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for failing to pay taxes amounting to more than $310,000 over three years. He gave out four months and was released early for good behavior.

On May 19, 1986, he beseech no contest to a charge of receiving and covering stolen assets worth less than $100 (a Colt .32-caliber handgun) and was fined $50 plus $100 in court costs. Moreover, he got other charges of stabbing and battery and receiving stolen property valued at more than $100 were dropped.

In July 1987, Ruffin spent a night in jail after a raid at a Detroit house. He was charged with cocaine possession, intending to distribute less than 20 grams of cocaine. He was released after posting a $1,500 acquaintance. Ruffin was found not guilty of possession but was found guilty of using the drug. 

He was sentenced to two years of trial and 50 days of community service. Additionally, in 1989, he again entered a drug remedy center after violating his trial three times. He accomplished a 28-day drug treatment program at the Areba Casriel Institute in New York.

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