From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Damon Harris (July 17, 1950 - February 18, 2013) was born Otis Robert Harris, Jr. in Baltimore, Maryland and was a three-time Grammy Award-winning African-American soul and R&B singer. He was most notable as a member of The Temptations from 1971 to 1975. Twenty years old when he joined the group, Harris was the youngest member of The Temptations during his tenure in the group. As a teenager Harris had formed a Temptations tribute band named The Young Tempts (aka The Young Vandals). The group had charted singles released on T-Neck Records, and later had a few minor hits under the name Impact. He also was instrumental in his former singing group partner, Billy Griffin, getting the opportunity to replace Smokey Robinson in The Miracles. Harris later founded and CEO of The Damon Harris Cancer Foundation dedicated to promoting the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of prostate cancer.
The Young Tempts/The Young Vandals
As a teenager growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Otis Harris, Jr. was a major Temptations fan, and idolized in particular the group's falsetto, Eddie Kendricks. Patterning himself after Kendricks, Harris and his friends John Quinton Simms, Charles Timmons (also known as Kareem Ali, who went on to perform with Glenn Leonard's Temptations Revue), and Donald Knute Tighman, formed a Temptations-inspired vocal group during his high school years called The Young Tempts ("Tempts" being a nickname for the Temptations). The Young Tempts recorded covers of two 1966 Temptations' songs, "I've Been Good to You" (a song originally recorded by The Miracles), and "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby," for The Isley Brothers' T-Neck Records in 1970. Motown Records filed an injunction against T-Neck because of the group's name; the 45 was withdrawn and re-issued with the group credited as The Young Vandals, and reached #46 on the R&B charts. At about this time, Billy Griffin, who he had sang with in a childhood group, joined the Young Vandals' lineup.
After two more T-Neck singles, " In My Opinion" and "I'm Gonna Wait For You", The Young Vandals broke up, because Harris felt that college would be a more sensible endeavor than a singing career.
In April 1971, a friend convinced Harris to audition for The Temptations, who were doing a series of shows in nearby Washington, D.C.. The group had just replaced Eddie Kendricks with Ricky Owens from The Vibrations, who was giving uneven performances, and The Temptations were again looking for a replacement. Harris performed first for Temptations Melvin Franklin, Richard Street, and Dennis Edwards before auditioning for group leader Otis Williams. Williams was hesitant about taking on the young singer, who was nearly a decade younger than the rest of The Temptations. Franklin, Street, and Edwards voted to accept Harris, however, and he made his onstage debut a few weeks later as first tenor/falsetto. Around this time, Billy Griffin replaced Smokey Robinson in The Miracles.
When he joined the Temptations, Otis Harris changed his name to Damon Harris, because, in his words, "the group already had an Otis"
Harris continued to perform with the Temptations for four years, providing Kendricks-esque lead vocals on hits such as "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" (1971), "Take a Look Around" (1972), the #1 pop hit "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", (1972, a three-time Grammy Award winner), the #1 R&B hit "Masterpiece" (1973), "Plastic Man" (also 1973), He leads on "Love Woke Me Up This Morning" from the All Directions album (1972) and is featured prominently on the hard-to-find The Temptations Live in Japan (1975). According to Otis Williams' book, The Temptations, he was fired from the group in 1975 because of inappropriate statements he made that affected the perception of the group in the eyes of the public.
After leaving the group, the dejected Harris decided to reform The Young Vandals with Simms, Timmons (Kareem Ali), and Tilghman, renaming the group Impact, and signing a deal with Atco Records in 1976. Working with a Philadelphia soul production team, Impact recorded a number of minor soul and disco hits, including "Happy Man" and the #5 disco hit "Give a Broken Heart a Break". The group released only one album on Atco, 1976's Impact, before being dropped from the label because of low sales. Impact signed with Fantasy Records in 1977 and issued the album The Pac is Back, which also suffered from slow sales. The group disbanded and Harris recorded some solo singles of his own including 1978's "It's Music", and the album Silk.
Damon Harris soon retired from music and moved to Reno, Nevada to complete college. In the 1990s, he returned to music and began touring, sometimes billing himself as The Temptations Review Starring Damon Harris. Richard Street, another ex-Temptation, periodically performed with Harris' Temptations review until he formed his own Temptations group. He also briefly toured with former Temptations David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards before Ruffin and Kendricks died.
At the age of 47, Harris was diagnosed with prostate cancer, while making a comeback into the music industry. After being treated for the disease, Harris founded The Damon Harris Cancer Foundation in 2001. The organization is a non-profit company, designed to heighten awareness of prostate cancer diagnoses and treatments. The organization has a special focus in reaching African-American audiences, as African-American men have an approximately 60% higher chance of contracting prostate cancer than white men, and are twice as likely to die from the disease .
On Saturday May 5, 2001 South Jersey radio host Tim Marshall organized the first Damon Harris Cancer Foundation Benefit Gala held in Mount Laurel NJ. Entertainers including Ms. Marilyn Marshall and The Delfonics paid tribute to Harris who was honored for his charitable works Harris received a Proclamation from the New Jersey Legislature presented by State Senator Diane Allen.
On February 18, 2013, Harris died at the age of 62. According to Billy Wilson of the Motown Alumni Association, his cause of death has not been revealed, despite Harris having suffering from prostate cancer.
- 1976: Impact
- 1977: The Pac is Back
- 1978: Silk