R&B Hall of Famers and all-time classic soul-music crooners the Dramatics got their start with the help of notorious Detroit black racketeer Edward (Fast Eddie) Wingate and were connected to the infamous Algiers Motel Massacre, which occurred 50 years ago this week, July 26, 1967, amid a raging race riot in the Motor City. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie titled simply Detroit chronicles the riot and the unsolved Algiers Motel murders.
At the time of the incident at the Algiers Motel, the Dramatics, born and bred Detroiters themselves, were in the middle of a brief stint at the legendary Motown music label. One of the victims of the massacre, 18-year old Freddy Temple had spent his summer as part of the Dramatics’ entourage. The Algiers Motel Massacre, allegedly perpetrated by law enforcement, resulted in the murder of three African-American male teens and the beating of nine other people, including two members of the Dramatics, Roderick Davis and Larry Reed, and took place early on in the fourth day of the worst riot in American history.
Actor and singer Jacob Latimore landed the role of Freddy Temple in the Detroit film. Algee Smith plays Larry Reed. Bigelow brought home the 2007 Academy Award for Best Director with her effort helming the nail-biting war movie The Hurt Locker.
Formed on the streets of Detroit in 1962, the Dramatics are best known for hit songs “In The Rain” and “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” from the 1970s and for singing backup vocals on seemingly-omnipresent rapper and pop culture staple Snoop Dogg’s 1993 single “Doggy Dog World.” In The Rain released in 1971 and Whatcha See Is What You Get released a year later, were Top 10 Billboard smashes, peaking at No. 5 and No. 9 on the charts respectively. The group’s original lineup consisted of Reed, Davis, Larry (Squirrel) Demps, Al Wilkins and Ron Banks.
The Dramatics were first signed by Fast Eddie Wingate’s Golden World Records in 1964 as the Dynamics. They put out singles “Bingo” (as the Dynamics) and “Inky Winky Wang Dango Doo” (as the Dramatics) on Golden World, but were given over to Motown when Motown owner and R&B pioneer and impresario Berry Gordy bought Wingate’s Golden World and Ric-Tic Records labels in 1966.
Wingate was the biggest black policy lottery boss and bookmaker in Detroit throughout the 1960s. His Twenty Grand Supper Club, a popular lounge and performance venue down the road from Motown’s Hitsville studio, acted as a launch pad for virtually all of Gordy’s most profitable acts, such as Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. It was also a hangout for area pimps, gamblers, numbers runners, narcotics peddlers, mobsters and professional murderers, according to state police documents.
Per FBI records related to the Motown music kingdom, Gordy maintained ties to underworld figures like Wingate and drug pusher Arnold (Pretty Ricky) Wright, both with whom he was particularly close, and members of the Italian mafia in Michigan as well. Wingate retired to Las Vegas in the 1980s, dying of natural causes in 2006.
On the afternoon the 1967 Detroit Riot broke out, the Dramatics were backstage getting ready to perform at the Fox Theatre downtown as part of the Motown Music Revue playing to a packed house in their hometow. Two of the Dramatics, Roderick Davis and Larry Reed, and their friend Freddy Temple, who had been on tour with the Motown Music Revue the prior two months, took refuge from the riots at the Algiers Motel located in the city’s Virginia Park neighborhood.
Temple, Davis and Reed were socializing in the motel’s adjoining Manor House residence in the early hours of July 26, 1967 when a deputized riot task force made up the Detroit Police, Michigan State Police and U.S. National Guard arrived on the scene to investigate reports of sniper fire in the vicinity. They were aided by private security units in their sweep of the Algiers Motel and were reportedly angered to find two white prostitutes congregating with 10 black men in the Manor House
By the time the task force departed the area two hours later, Temple and fellow Manor House inhabitants Carl Cooper, 17, Aubrey Pollard, 19, were slain, Cooper and Temple from shotgun blasts coming from weapons matching those issued to the task force. Pollard was reportedly killed execution style.
Two Detroit Police officers, Ron August and Robert Pallie would confess to taking part in two of the murders, but later recant and have the charges against them thrown out. Detroit Police Department vice squad detective David Senak, the man who led the raid at the Algiers Motel, was charged with conspiracy and misconduct, however, also had the charges dismissed.
According to future trial testimony, Roderick Davis was taken into a room of the motel by Senak and instructed to lay face down on the floor at which time Senak sent a shotgun blast into a wall next to him as an intimidation measure. Senak then told August to take a pistol he gave him and to go kill Pollard in the room next door, per the testimony. Despite never being punished by the law, Senak, August and Pallie never worked as cops again. Senak was linked to at least two other shootings and one murder patrolling the riot zone in the days preceding the triple homicide at the Algiers Motel on July 26.
Detroit’s 1967 Riot claimed a combined 43 lives over five days in late July. Police made more than 7,000 arrests and more than 2,000 buildings and pieces of property burned to the ground. The riot began at around 4:00 a.m. on July 23 in the aftermath of a police raid on a party at a blind pig to welcome home two returning African-American Vietnam vets from finishing their service overseas in Southeast Asia.
Following the riot, the Dramatics departed Berry Gordy’s Motown label for Sport Records and then to Volt-Stax Records out of Memphis, where they found their most mainstream success. They’ve also put out work on ABC Records, Chess Records’ Cadet label and corporate giant Capitol Records. The Dramatics were inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame in 2013 and are still touring.
Reed and Davis left the group in 1968, shortly after the Dramatics decided to part ways with Motown. Gordy and his Motown label fled the Motor City for Los Angeles in 1972. In June 1988, Gordy sold his interests in the music empire he constructed to worldwide acclaim and fanfare to MCA for a cool 61 million dollars.