From Motown to the mining communities of Britain, Jimmy Ruffin will be missed, writes Peter Frost
Jimmy Ruffin, who died in Las Vegas a week ago aged 78, will be remembered for recording what is arguably Motown’s best and most memorable soul hit — What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.
However those of us involved in the epic miners’ strike of 1984 have more reason to remember and pay tribute to this great soul singer.
Having moved to Britain in 1984, Ruffin, along with Paul Weller, released the Council Collective single Soul Deep.
The disc raised much-needed money for families of striking miners and the two singers’ efforts helped to win sympathy and support among a wider audience.
Mississippi-born Ruffin explained that his father had been a miner in the harsh coalfields of the US south and had himself experienced anti-union attitudes and actions in the US coal industry.
Later, still living in Britain, the singer made the seven-part series Jimmy Ruffin’s Sweet Soul Music for Radio 2.
When his brother David, lead singer of the Temptations, died of a cocaine overdose in 1991, Jimmy became a committed anti-drugs campaigner both in Britain and the US.
Jimmy Ruffin was born in dirt-poor Mississippi. At an early age, and with his even-younger brothers and sisters, Ruffin began singing with a family gospel group, the Dixie Nightingales.
By 1961, Ruffin was part of the Motown stable, mostly on sessions but also recording singles. He was drafted for national service, leaving the army in 1964.
He returned to Motown, where he was offered the opportunity to join the Temptations. Instead his younger brother David got the job.
Jimmy resumed his solo career. In 1966 he heard the song that would make him famous.
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted became a major success. The song reached number seven on US charts and number 10 in the British singles chart. The reissue in 1974 reached number four in Britain.
Ruffin found success in the US difficult to sustain and began to concentrate instead on the British market.
In 1970 three of his songs made the British top 10 and he was voted the world’s top singer in one British poll.
He broke with Motown and recorded for the Polydor and Chess labels.
In the 1980s Ruffin moved to live in Britain, where he continued to perform successfully.
As well as playing benefits Ruffin appeared with Weller on Radio 1. He told listeners he was involved because his father had worked down the mines before becoming a Baptist minister.
Following the 2010 re-release of the 1970 album I Am My Brother’s Keeper, Ruffin recorded a new album that he had planned to release during 2013. It was never completed.
This obituary first appeared in the Morning Star 24 November 2014