By: Felicia Farnsworth
Johnny and Lee Bell Kendrick were Eddie James Kendrick’s parents, born on December 17, 1939, in Union Springs, AL. In the late 1940s, the Kendrick family moved to the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham. While singing in the church choir, Kendrick befriended a young Paul Williams, and a lifetime friendship was created.
Kendrick and Williams formed a doo-wop group called The Cavaliers with Kell Osborne and Jerome Averette in 1955. They performed at small venues around Birmingham. It wasn’t until 1957 that Milton Jenkins became manager and moved them to Detroit, Michigan, and renamed them The Primes. They had a female spin-off group known as The Primettes, later known as The Supremes. The Primes disbanded in 1961.
Kendrick and Williams went on to form The Elgins with Eldridge “Al” Bryant, Otis Williams, and Melvin “Blue” Franklin. The same day they created the group, they decided to change the name, and The Temptations were born and signed to Motown.
They started their career as background singers for Mary Wells. Kendrick sang lead on many songs, including but not limited to; “The Way You Do The Things You Do” (1964),” Get Ready,” (1966), and “Just My Imagination” (1971). His normal singing voice is a tenor, but he is noted for his distinctive falsetto singing style.
He was responsible for creating most of the group’s vocal arrangements, served as wardrobe manager, and was responsible for their famous purple suits. Kendrick not only sang lead vocals but wrote several of their songs as well.
His bandmates nicknamed him “Cornbread” or “Corn” for his love of cornbread. He romantically pursued Diana Ross and was close friends with Martha Reeves of The Vandellas. Kendrick left the group in the early 1970’s. He started his solo career, which produced several hits, but it soon ended in 1978 when he left Motown and re-joined The Temptations for a reunion tour in 1982.
He sang some lead vocals but found it difficult due to a “pin-drop” of cancer on his lungs. He refused chemotherapy in fear of losing his hair. Kendrick and his Temptation bandmates were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
Kendrick was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1991, and after trying to perform on tour, he fell ill and underwent surgery to remove a lung in hopes of stopping the spread of the cancer.
Kendrick died of lung cancer on October 5, 1992, at Baptist Medical Center-Princeton in Birmingham. He was 52-years old.