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  • The Detroit Free Press

    Temptations founder proud, emotional as Otis Williams Street is unveiled in Detroit

    By Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press,

    30 days ago

    Just down the block from his former Detroit house, a beaming Otis Williams helped tug a rope to reveal a commemorative city marker bearing his name.

    Otis C. Williams Street was unveiled Saturday afternoon in a festive ceremony saluting the 82-year-old Temptations founder, who, at one point, choked up as he absorbed the latest honor granted to him by the city where his musical journey took flight.

    “To have my name on the street that I used to live on — I never would have imagined that such wonderful accolades would be bestowed upon me, and I am so very thankful,” Williams told the assembled audience of Motown figures, civic dignitaries and excited neighborhood residents.

    In a sparkling jacket, sunglasses and a “DETROIT”-emblazoned cap, Williams credited fans and the 27 singers who have served alongside him in the Temptations through the decades.

    “I just love you all for loving us throughout all the changes that we’ve been through,” said Williams, the group’s lone surviving original member. He also paid tribute to the Tempts’ longtime manager, Shelly Berger, who sat nearby.

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    The ceremonial street designation — along Wisconsin Street at Santa Clara on the city’s northwest side — is among several across Detroit honoring hometown music stars, including Stevie Wonder Avenue, Marvin Gaye Drive, Aretha Franklin Way and David Ruffin Avenue.

    Williams lived in the neighborhood from 1968 to 1970, when the Temptations were well on the way to cementing their status as one of the most successful vocal groups in history. Years earlier, he had spearheaded the group’s formation, and the Temptations’ “Classic Five” lineup — including Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin and Paul Williams — became a Motown powerhouse, finding global fame with their textured harmonies and slick stage moves.

    The street renaming was approved by Detroit City Council following a two-year process launched by Williams’ nephew Ali Little, boosted by Black United Fund of Michigan, then driven home by the Motown Museum and council member Angela Whitfield Calloway.

    “It takes a village, even when you’re celebrating a giant,” said Robin Terry, the Motown Museum’s CEO and chairwoman.

    Temptations tunes were booming on a sunny morning ahead of the dedication, which included guests such as Calloway, Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Universal Music Enterprises President Bruce Resnikoff. Neighbors, including some who were around when Williams lived at 17376 Wisconsin, eagerly captured the scene on their mobile devices.

    The group’s tour bus rolled up before the noon start, as Williams’ current group mates — Ron Tyson, Jawan Jackson, Terry Weeks and Tony Grant — dropped in to celebrate the occasion with the Tempts’ patriarch, who now lives in Los Angeles. The group was set to perform later Saturday to wrap up a two-night stand at Andiamo Celebrity Showroom in Warren.

    Saturday’s ceremony also included a Spirit of Detroit Award for Williams from Detroit City Council, which declared him a “towering figure” in city culture and hailed his “transformative contributions to music and his embodiment of the Detroit spirit.”

    Gilchrist, who said he was speaking for himself and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said Michigan is proud and grateful for the musical legacy created by Williams and the Temptations. The new street marker is a cross-generational symbol, he said — a reminder of the “talent that exists on every corner of every street in every neighborhood in Detroit.”

    A performance of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by singers from the Motown Museum’s Hitsville Next program was followed by remarks from Berger, who has been a manager and close confidante of Williams for 57 years.

    Berger recounted Motown founder Berry Gordy’s description of the Temptations as a group whose whole was bigger than the sum of its parts. And the enduring backbone is Williams, a “thinking man” who has consistently put the group’s interests first, Berger said:

    “Through it all, quietly, there was one thing that was always constant — Otis Williams.”

    Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or

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