Ruffin was born Davis Eli Ruffin on January 18, 1941 in the rural unincorporated community of Whynot, Mississippi, the son of Eli, a Baptist minister, and Ophelia Ruffin (née Davis). His father wasstrict and at times violently abusive. Ruffin's mother died just months after his birth and his father married a schoolteacher, Earline, in 1942. As a young child, Ruffin, along with his othersiblings (older brothers Quincy and Jimmy, and sister Rita Mae), traveled with their father and their stepmother as a family gospel group opening shows for Mahalia Jackson and The Five Blind Boys ofMississippi among others. He also had an older sister Rosetta who died as a child. Ruffin sang in the choir at Mount Salem Methodist Church, talent shows, and wherever else he could. In 1955, at theage of fourteen, he left home under the guardianship of a minister and went to Memphis, Tennessee with the purpose of pursuing the ministry.
At age 15, Ruffin went to Hot Springs, Arkansas with thejazz musician Phineas Newborn, Sr. There they played at the Fifty Grand Ballroom and Casino. Ruffin continued to sing at talent shows, worked with horses at a jockey club and eventually became amember of the Dixie Nightingales. He also sang with the Soul Stirrers briefly after the departure of Johnnie Taylor. It was in Ruffin's travels as a teenager that he met such later popularpersonalities as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Frankie Lymon, Bobby Womack, the Staple Singers, the Swan Silvertones and the Dixie Hummingbirds.
After some of his singing idols like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilsonhad left gospel music and gone secular, Ruffin also turned in that direction. He met and came under the guardianship of Eddie Bush and Dorothy Helen who took David to Detroit, Michigan and introducedhim to Gwen Gordy Fuqua, Berry Gordy's sister and Billy Davis. Asked about Ruffin in the Detroit Free Press in 1988, Gordy Fuqua said, "He was very much a gentleman, yes ma'am and no ma'am, but the...
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