Motown legend Jimmy Ruffin has died, aged 78. He passed away in a Las Vegas hospital on Monday, November 17. As every reader of this magazine will know, he was most famous for his hit singles What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, I’ve Passed This Way Before, Farewell Is A Lonely Sound and I’ll Say Forever My Love.
Ruffin was born in Collinsville, Mississippi, almost two years before his brother David, later a Temptation, was born. The siblings began singing with a gospel group The Dixie Nightingales and in 1961 Jimmy became a singer at Motown, mostly on sessions, but also recording singles for its subsidiary Miracle label. He was then drafted for national service and on leaving the Army in 1964 he returned to Motown, where he was offered the chance to join the Temptations to replace Elbridge Bryant. However, after hearing his brother David, Motown hired him for the job instead, so Jimmy decided to stay solo.
His biggest hit and best known tune, What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, came about in 1966, when he heard the song, penned by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser and James Dean and intended for The Spinners, and persuaded the composers that he should record it himself. Jimmy’s version reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and six on the R&B Chart. It also initially reached number 10 in the UK singles chart, rising to number four when reissued in the UK in 1974.
Follow-ups I’ve Passed This Way Before and Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got also reached the US charts in late 1966 and early 1967. Subsequently Jimmy did better in the British market. In 1970 Farewell Is a Lonely Sound, I’ll Say Forever My Love and It’s Wonderful [To Be Loved By You] each made the UK top 10, and he was voted the world’s top singer in one British poll. He also teamed up with brother David to record the album I Am My Brother’s Keeper, in 1970.
He then left Motown, and recorded for the Polydor and Chess labels, where he recorded the excellent, Al Green-ish 45 Tell Me What You Want. In 1980, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees produced his album Sunrise and the hit single Hold On To My Love, which reached number 10 in the US and number seven in the UK, on the RSO label.
In the 1980s, Ruffin moved to live in Britain, and in 1984 he collaborated with Paul Weller of The Style Council for a benefit single Soul Deep, produced to raise money for the families of striking miners affected by the UK miners’ strike. In ‘86 he collaborated with the British pop group Heaven 17, recording A Foolish Thing To Do and My Sensitivity. He also recorded duets with both Maxine Nightingale and Brenda Holloway. Later, Ruffin hosted a radio show in the UK for a time, and became an anti-drug advocate following the 1991 drug overdose death of his brother David.
He is survived by his children Arlet, Philicia, Jimmie L., Ophelia and Camilla. His son Jimmie Ray died in 2013.