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(CNN) -- Jimmy Ruffin, silky-voiced singer of the Motown classic "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," died Monday in Las Vegas. He was 78.
The Mississippi-born Ruffin had a performing career that spanned 50 years, from the '60s heyday of Motown Records to the digital music era. He was an older brother of David Ruffin, a lead singer of the Temptations, who died in 1991.
His death was confirmed by his children, Philicia Ruffin and Jimmy Lee Ruffin Jr., in a statement Wednesday. The family did not offer a cause of death.
"Jimmy Ruffin was a phenomenal singer," said Motown founder Berry Gordy in a statement issued by the Universal Music Group, which now owns the famous Detroit-born label. Gordy described "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" as "one of the greatest songs put out by Motown and also one of my personal favorites."
"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," about a lonely guy reeling from a lost love, was intended for the Spinners until Ruffin talked its writers into letting him record it on his own. Its tone of mournful yearning struck a chord, and the song became a top 10 hit in the United States and in the United Kingdom in 1966.
It begins: "As I walk this land of broken dreams, I have visions of many things/But happiness is just an illusion/Filled with sadness and confusion/What becomes of the brokenhearted/Who have love that's now departed/I know I've got to find/Some kind of peace of mind/Maybe."
Ruffin had a handful of lesser hits in the late '60s, including "I've Passed This Way Before" and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got." He later left the Motown label, had several hits in England, and scored a comeback in 1980 with the disco-inflected "Hold on to My Love," produced by Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees.
Ruffin scored a comeback in 1980 with the disco-inflected "Hold on to My Love."
"He (Ruffin) was a wonderful human being, quiet and unassuming, who touched many lives with his music, not just here in the States, but overseas, as well," Gordy added. "Jimmy Ruffin will always be a part of the Motown legacy, and I extend my sincere condolences to his family, friends and fans."
Ruffin's family described themselves as "extremely upset" over his death.
"He will truly be missed," Philicia Ruffin said. "We will treasure the many fond and wonderful memories we all have of him. We appreciate all of the love and prayers from our family, friends, his colleagues and his adoring fans."
The mystery of soul singer
The standard history of Cincinnati’s King Records, which started here in 1943 and produced classic records in country, gospel, early rock and African-American-oriented R&B, is that by the mid-1960s it had the soul superstar James Brown and nobody else of import.
Commercially, that was true. From 1965 until it closed Cincinnati operations in 1971, the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz kept King alive with Top 40 smashes like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Otherwise, the rest of King’s artists had records that rarely amounted to much, either because they were unfamiliar names or were veterans who had seen better days (and material).
But one King R&B artist of that period – a Cincinnati native named Junior McCants – has turned out to have quite a following, especially in England, although he didn’t live to see it.
In fact, he’s become important enough to merit a panel discussion at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 800 Vine St. in Downtown. Called “Listen to This: The Mystery of Soul Singer Junior McCants,” the free presentation will play his music and have interviews, live or recorded, with family members and McCants’ producer and songwriter, Charles Spurling, who worked for King in the 1960s as a talent scout and recording artist.
“Junior McCants was a local musician and not a lot of the singers at King were born and raised in Cincinnati,” said Brian Powers, the librarian who organized the presentation and has previously offered other King-related programming. “And the story that he died young was intriguing. This gives us a chance to look at local soul music that people in England were gobbling up.”
McCants apparently only recorded four songs total, since a 45-rpm vinyl single has two sides. He died on July 11, 1967, before the second two-sided single, “Try Me For Your New Love”/“She Wrote It, I Read It,” could be issued as anything more than a promotional copy. He was just 24 and had been battling cancer off and on since age seven. His first single, 1967’s “A Boy Needs a Girl”/“Help Me Love,” stirred some local interest.
An upbeat, drivingly rhythmic dance record like “Try Me for Your New Love,” which had an exciting and energetic falsetto vocal by McCants, would seem to have had hit potential. Instead it became a kind of ghost record.
In 2008, a promo copy was auctioned on E-Bay and sold for $15,099 to an unidentified buyer. That auction amount is considered the most ever paid for a rare record by a little-known artist.
But this year a second copy emerged and was offered by Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills. Bidding started at first at $1,250 and then $1,000, but it didn’t sell. Heritage had been assigned the record by an Ohio collector who bought it second-hand. The company thinks maybe potential buyers now wonder how many more will turn up.
McCants’ reputation has benefitted from a decades-old mostly-British music subculture called Northern Soul, which seeks to discover and champion American R&B records, labels and artists who were overlooked at home. There are British record companies that reissue rare American records for Northern Soul devotees.
“Try Me For Your New Love” kicked off a 2000 compilation on Britain’s Ace Records called King Northern Soul. “This is an incredibly rare record with good but tragic reason,” the liner notes said. It further said that a promo copy had earlier been sent to a British dealer, who sold it to a British DJ who played it at Northern Soul clubs where it was well-received.
“It’s difficult for Americans to understand because we were so engrossed in Motown and also soul and funk – that’s what I danced to,” said Jim Steele, a records expert at Heritage Auctions. “But this took root in England and was a matter of finding something they could call their own. I’ve listened to some of these recordings and it reminds you of Motown but not as slick. But it’s also not as gritty as Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding. And the whole rarity factor played a part – that just made it more attractive.”
There are still many unanswered questions (and hazy memories, after so long) about McCants’ life and career. Those contacted by both Powers and this writer sometimes had contradictory recollections.
By the time he died, McCants already was married and had two daughters – a son was born about a month after his death. He also had briefly served in the military. He had been born James W. McCants Jr., one of 13 children, and his parents operated a pony keg on Central Avenue in the West End and lived in the West End and Mount Auburn. Taking to music early, he had opened for touring acts at the West End’s historic Regal Theater.
“He was a guy of many talents,” said sister Wynetta McCants of Cincinnati, who as a teenager provided back-up vocals for her brother. “Music was his first love but more people thought he should be a stand-up comedian as much as a musician. He was jovial and upbeat all the time. A real fun-loving kind of guy who got the most out of life.”
One important source, Spurling of Lincoln Heights, said he was too ill to discuss McCants when this reporter called. But he had earlier told Powers he had met McCants when both worked at a company making aluminum trash cans on Spring Grove Avenue. He said McCants already had a contract with King, but that he supplied him with a band – guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, his bassist younger brother William Earl (“Bootsy”), and drummer Don Juan “Tiger” Martin.
Reached in Georgia, Martin recalled the McCants sessions. “Junior McCants was a real sweet cat, man,” he said. “He was real polite and I think he really appreciated us recording for him. And he could sing, man.
“We were under the impression we would go on tour with him and play behind him,” Martin said. “But Charles told us at rehearsal one night that Junior had cancer.”
Another sister, Velda McCants-Stuckey of Madisonville, was too young to know her brother well. She was just six when he died. But she views the upcoming Main Library panel discussion, as well as the discovery of international interest in his songs, with excitement.
“I think it’s time,” she said. “It’s something he would have enjoyed. It’s unfortunate he couldn’t live to display more talent.”
IF YOU GO
What: Listen to This: The Mystery of Soul Singer Junior McCants
Where: The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 800 Vine St., Downtown.
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
HEAR JUNIOR McCANTS
Hear Junior McCants singing “Try me for Your New Love”:
Another Voice Has Been Stilled
Tim Hauser, singer and founder The Manhattan Transfer, passed away Thursday at age 72.
Tim Hauser, singer and founder The Manhattan Transfer, passed away Thursday at age 72.
Tim Hauser, the founder and singer of the Grammy-winning vocal troupe The Manhattan Transfer, died Thursday from cardiac arrest, band representative JoAnn Geffen said Friday. He was 72.
Hauser founded Manhattan Transfer, who released their debut album in the early 1970s and launched hits such as "Operator" and "The Boy from New York City." They went on to win multiple pop and jazz Grammy Awards. Their critically acclaimed album, 1985's "Vocalese," earned a whopping 12 Grammy nominations.
Alan Paul, Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne - who joined in 1978 and replaced Laurel Masse - rounded out the foursome.
"Tim was the visionary behind The Manhattan Transfer," they said in a statement. "It's incomprehensible to think of this world without him."
Hauser first formed Manhattan Transfer in 1969 with Erin Dickins, Marty Nelson, Gene Pistilli and Pat Rosali. They disbanded and Hauser met some of the band's new members as a taxi driver in New York City. He met a conga player while driving who introduced him to Siegel and he also met Masse while driving.
Hauser was born in Troy, New York. He is survived by his wife Barb Sennet Hauser, his son Basie and his daughter Lily.
Manhattan Transfer will continue their upcoming tour despite Hauser's death. Their next show is Oct. 23 in Manchester, New Hampshire.