1950 - 2013
Published: December 25, 2013
Since 1960, the Temptations have been among the most enduring acts to come out of Motown Records, which was founded the year before. And for four years from 1971 to 1975—an era that included three Grammy Awards and the group’s last Billboard number-one hit single, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”—the Temptations lineup included Baltimore’s own Otis Robert Harris Jr., who changed his name to Damon when he joined, since the group already had one Otis—its leader and co-founder, Otis Williams. Harris died at 62 this year in Baltimore after a 14-year battle with prostate cancer.
Coming up in Baltimore, Harris, who went to Forest Park High School before graduating from Northwestern High School, performed in two groups, the Tempos and the Young Tempts, which became the Young Vandals after Motown sued its record company, T-Neck Records, over the group’s name. Then in 1971—despite having decided to quit music and go to college instead—Harris auditioned for the Temptations in Washington, D.C. and was chosen to replace his idol, Eddie Kendricks, as the Temptations’ lead falsetto/tenor. One of Harris’ Baltimore friends, singer Billy Griffin, idolized Smokey Robinson as Harris had Kendricks, and in 1972 Griffin—who co-wrote the Miracles’ 1976 smash hit “Love Machine”—replaced Robinson in the Miracles after Harris recommended him.
Harris was by far the youngest of the Temptations and toured the world with them until getting kicked out in 1975 for reasons that remain unclear. He landed in Philadelphia, getting the Young Vandals back together under a new name, Impact, and later releasing a solo album, Silk, before moving to Reno, Nev., and finally getting his college degree. He also continued his musical career, performing with other Temptations veterans, even after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, when he was 47.
With a dire prognosis, given the advanced stage of his disease, Harris set about to spread the word about early prostate-cancer screening. In 2000, he was profiled by The New York Times, openly discussing the difficulties he faced under his chosen treatment regime: hormone therapy, which causes hot flashes, weight gain, and dampened libido. Regarding the work of his nonprofit, the Damon Harris Cancer Foundation, he told the Times that “it’s important to me that other men not go through what I’ve experienced, particularly African-Americans.’’
Later, in an interview last fall with the Carlisle Sentinel newspaper in Pennsylvania, in advance of his performance at the city’s convention center to benefit cancer research, Harris said, “the glitz and glamour that immortalizes us is not real. Cancer is real.”
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