Abdul "Duke" Fakir, born in Detroit, Michigan, was an original member of popular Motown act the Four Tops from 1954 to the present. Fakir is the only surviving original member of the group.
Duke Fakir, who is of Ethiopian ancestry, attended Pershing High School along with Levi Stubbs. He and Stubbs first met Lawrence Payton and Renaldo "Obie" Benson at a friend's birthday party in 1954. They so enjoyed singing together that night that they decided to start a singing group named The Four Aims which would later be re-named the Four Tops. They spent over four decades without a single personnel change.
In between, they became one of the top-tier acts on a label with no shortage of talent, ranking with the Temptations and the Supremes as Motown's most consistent hit-makers. Where many other R&B vocal groups spotlighted a tenor-range lead singer, the Four Tops were fronted by deep-voiced Levi Stubbs, who never cut a solo record outside of the group. Stubbs had all the grit of a gospel-trained singer but the Tops' were still able to surround his leads with creamy harmonies smooth enough for Motown's radio-friendly pop-soul productions.
From 1964-1967, the Four Tops recorded some of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team's greatest compositions, including "Reach Out, I'll Be There," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "Standing in the Shadows of Love," "Bernadette," and "Baby I Need Your Loving."
After meeting while in high school, they sensed an immediate chemistry, and began rehearsing together and dubbed themselves the Four Aims. Payton's cousin Roquel Davis, a budding songwriter who sometimes sang with the group during its early days, helped them get an audition with Chess Records in 1956.
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In 1963, the Four Tops signed with longtime friend Berry Gordy's new label, specifically the jazz-oriented Workshop subsidiary. They completed a debut LP, to be called Breaking Through, but Gordy scrapped it and switched their style back to R&B, placing them on Motown with the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team. After a full decade in existence, the Four Tops finally scored their first hit in 1964 with "Baby I Need Your Loving," which just missed the pop Top Ten.
In 1965 they recorded their follow-up ballad hit "Ask the Lonely," and afterwards, the hits kept coming; "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" went all the way to number one that spring, and the follow-up "It's the Same Old Song" reached the Top Five. The hits continued into 1966, with "Something About You" "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)," and "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" all coming in succession.
The fall of 1966 brought the group's masterpiece in the form of the virtual soul symphony "Reach Out, I'll Be There"; not only did it become their second number one pop hit, it also wound up ranking as the creative peak of the group's career and one of Motown's finest singles ever. During this period, the Tops also earned a reputation as one of Motown's best live acts, having previously honed their performances for years before hitting the big time.
The Four Tops kicked off 1967 with the dramatic Top Ten smash "Standing in the Shadows of Love," which was followed by the Top Five "Bernadette." "7-Rooms of Gloom" and "You Keep Running Away" reached the Top 20, but toward the end of the year, Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown over a financial dispute, which didn't bode well for the Four Tops' impressive hit streak. Their next two hits, 1968's "Walk Away Renee" and "If I Were a Carpenter," were both covers of well-known recent songs, and while both made the Top 20, they heralded a rough couple of years.
They enjoyed a resurgence in 1970 after recording the pop standard "It's All in the Game" and a ballad co-written by Smokey Robinson, "Still Water (Love)." The Tops also recorded with the post-Diana Ross Supremes, scoring a duet hit with a cover of "River Deep-Mountain High" in 1971.
When Motown moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1972, the Four Tops parted ways with the company, choosing to remain in their hometown of Detroit. They signed with ABC-Dunhill and were teamed with producers/songwriters Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who did their best to re-create the group's trademark Motown sound.
The immediate result was "Keeper of the Castle," the Four Tops' first Top Ten hit in several years. They followed it in early 1973 with "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)," a gold-selling smash that proved to be their final Top Five pop hit. That year they also recorded the theme song to the film Shaft in Africa, "Are You Man Enough."
Several more R&B chart hits followed over the next few years, with the last being 1976's "Catfish"; after a final ABC album in 1978, the Tops largely disappeared from sight before resurfacing on Casablanca in 1981. Incredibly, their first single, "When She Was My Girl," went all the way to number one on the R&B charts, just missing the pop Top Ten. The accompanying album, Tonight!, became their last to hit the Top 40.
The Four Tops rejoined Motown in 1983, the year of the company's 25th anniversary, and toured extensively with the Temptations. They also recorded a couple albums of new material that failed to sell well, and wound up leaving Motown.
Meanwhile, Levi Stubbs provided the voice for Audrey the man-eating plant in the film version of Little Shop of Horrors. The Four Tops next caught on with Arista, where in 1988 they scored their last Top 40 pop hit, the aptly titled "Indestructible."
The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and continued to tour the oldies circuit.