The Four Tops are an American vocal quartet, whose repertoire has included doo-wop, jazz, soul music, R&B, disco, adult contemporary, hard rock, and showtunes. Founded in Detroit, Michigan as The Four Aims, lead singer Levi Stubbs, and groupmates Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton remained together for over four decades, having gone from 1953 until 1997 without a single change in personnel.
Among a number of groups who helped define the Motown Sound of the 1960s, including The Miracles, The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, and The Supremes, the Four Tops were notable for having Stubbs, a baritone, as their lead singer; most groups of the time were fronted by a tenor. The group was the main male vocal group for the songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who crafted a stream of hit singles, including two Billboard Hot 100 number-one hits: “I Can’t Help Myself ” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. After Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1967, the Four Tops were assigned to a number of producers, primarily Frank Wilson. When Motown left Detroit in 1972 to move to Los Angeles, California, the Tops stayed in Detroit and moved over to ABC Records, where they continued to have charting singles into the late-1970s. Since the 1980s, the Four Tops have recorded for, at various times, Motown, Casablanca Records and Arista Records. Today, save for Indestructible, Universal Music Group controls the rights to their entire post-1963 catalog. A change of line-up was finally forced upon the group when Lawrence Payton died on June 20, 1997. The band initially continued as a three-piece under the name The Tops, before Theo Peoples was recruited as the new fourth member. Peoples eventually took over the role of lead singer when Stubbs suffered a stroke in 2000 with his position assumed by Ronnie McNeir. On July 1, 2005, Benson died of lung cancer with Payton’s son Roquel Payton replacing him. As of 2006, Fakir, McNeir, Payton, and Peoples were still performing together as the Four Tops. Levi Stubbs died on October 17, 2008. Fakir is now the only surviving founding member of the original group.
All four members of the group began their careers together while they were high school students in Detroit. At the insistence of their friends, Pershing High students Levi Stubbs and Abdul “Duke” Fakir performed with Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton from Northern High at a local birthday party. The quartet decided to remain together, and christened themselves The Four Aims. With the help of Payton’s songwriter cousin Roquel Davis, The Aims signed to Chess Records in 1956, changing their name to Four Tops to avoid confusion with The Ames Brothers.