In the glamorous world of Motown, few stories resonate as powerfully as that of Otis Williams and The Temptations. As the last surviving member of the original lineup, Otis carries a legacy of soulful harmonies, groundbreaking hits, and the ups and downs of life in the spotlight. We are privileged to sit down with him to delve deep into the riveting narrative of his life, the evolution of The Temptations, and the enduring influence they’ve cast on generations of music enthusiasts. As a testament to their everlasting impact, “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,” a musical celebrating their journey, dazzles audiences at the Prince Edward Theatre in London.
Do you remember all the names of The Temptations in the last 60 years?
Otis Williams: Every single one of them. There’s positive and always negative. We faced challenges but continued, even after 60 years, with many ups and downs. We’ve had challenges, like finding places to eat [due to segration]. I mean, we were shot at. Think of when we played Columbia, South Carolina, in 1964. When we got to the venue, there was a rope right down the centre of the auditorium. Right on one side. We went out and did the show. Came back to the same place the next year. That rope was no longer there. Black and white kids side-by-side, high-fiving each other.
But we also had moments of unity. Sometimes, we’d find new depth in our music, making it even more exciting. It’s essential to tell our story, primarily for younger generations. We’re just like everyone else. We were lucky to succeed in what we did, but we didn’t always love ourselves enough to stay united. However, I’ve been the constant over these sixty years.
What’s the secret behind the longevity of your music?
Otis: We faced hardships, but God was kind enough to let us continue. Many thought we were done when we lost David [Ruffin], but after that, we started winning Grammys and sold more albums. The music has stood the test of time and is still popular. For the younger generation, it’s remarkable that they can pick out songs from 60 years ago.
What do you attribute that to?
Otis: It’s the quality of the music. Motown has always been about creating sounds that resonate deeply with listeners. Music that people can remember and hum along to even years later. There’s an essence and magic to it.
Comparatively, culturally speaking, who was more important: The Temptations or The Beatles?
Otis: Oh, that’s a tough one. I love both. There was a time when we were so popular that we were called the “Black Beatles.” We played venues like the Copacabana, where legends like Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis performed. But the essence is not about comparison but the impact of the music on people’s hearts. These guys were brilliant. Many other artists at Motown had brilliant talent. It was just a question of making the world aware of these young brilliant talents.
You’ve got to maintain that dedication. You can’t just rest on your laurels and think, ‘Well, I made it, so it’s all okay.’ Many groups believed that, and now they’re no longer here. Consider The Beatles; when John left, there were no more Beatles. The group often falls apart throughout history when the lead singer departs. Otis Williams witnessed 29 different lineups of The Temptations, and now, 60 years on, we’re about to debut at the Prince Edward Theater in London’s West End. The reason? The story in front of you—it’s his life, how he tackled it, and the experiences of others around him.
When you watch ‘Ain’t Too Proud’, you’ll witness the narrative of five or six individuals, their challenges, emotions, successes, and failures. That’s the unchanging truth even 60 years later. While many contributed to The Temptations’ journey—like Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong, Eddie Holland, and Berry Gordy—they were supporters. The Temptations faced their internal challenges; they met their highs and lows. But one man’s persistence kept them going. That’s the essence that resonates with audiences, especially here in England. Based on my six decades of experience, there’s an unmatched warmth from English fans. While America might chase after the next big thing every other week, in England, that recognition endures once you’ve made a mark. And though the show made waves on Broadway, I believe it will find an even grander stage in the West End.