By: Richard Prince, "Journal-isms"

The death of Dennis Edwards (February 1, 2018), the lead singer of Motown’s classic singing group the Temptations, saddened many of his fans.

But the news the following Tuesday was shocking, and one of the reporters who broke that story says, “It’s a matter of sources trusting you, and also — the documents.”

Erin Heffernan and Denise Hollinshed reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Court documents filed by an adult protective services investigator allege that weeks before the singer’s death, Brenda Edwards abused her husband.

“An investigator with the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois filed the protection order request on behalf of Dennis Edwards Jan. 12 in Chicago, where the couple lived together before Edwards’ death” in a Chicago hospital.

“The documents allege that Brenda Edwards had attempted to suffocate the 74-year-old by holding his head facedown on a bed.

The investigator also accused Brenda Edwards of taking her husband’s hearing aids from him, according to a petition for an order of protection. The documents say Edwards was ‘bed bound and immobile.’

“Dennis Edwards was removed from the home because of medical issues, according to the Jan. 12 document.

“An emergency protective order against Brenda Edwards was granted Jan. 18, barring her from contact with Dennis Edwards. A hearing that would have allowed Brenda Edwards to respond to the allegations was scheduled for Friday, but was canceled after her husband’s death the day before.

“The protective order was vacated on Friday, after Dennis Edwards’ death. . . .” Though Edwards most recently lived in Chicago, he also had lived in St. Louis County, Mo. and in Detroit, where Motown was based.

Kevin C. Johnson, the Post-Dispatch’s pop music critic, had a tagline on the story.

He told Journal-isms by email on Feb. 1, “I believe my getting the information first had everything to do with my having covered Dennis Edwards for the past twenty years here in St. Louis where they lived for a long time, and getting to know him and his wife in doing so.

“The morning after I wrote the obituary, I got an email from his daughter, a family member I had never encountered, and she made me aware of her claims against Dennis’ wife. I also received a second email, from a person who looked to be legal representation, with the court paperwork attached. I forwarded all info to the news desk immediately, to a reporter more experienced in legal ins and outs, and it went on from there.”

Johnson said he has been a reporter for 30 years and pop music writer for 20, but felt that the news side would be best to handle the story. “I helped out where I could,” he said.

Longtime Motown writer Susan Whitall of the Detroit News was also on the story.

“My editor at the News had me do an obit on Dennis,” Whitall told Journal-isms by email. “I’d interviewed him several times over the years, and I’d written a lot about Norman Whitfield and the whole psychedelic soul era of the Tempts. I’d just done a long essay about ‘Papa was a Rollin’ Stone’ and the use of classical musicians at Motown for the Kresge Foundation last year.

“After the obit on Dennis ran, I started hearing from various sources about what might be going on. I reached out to some varied sources, they reached back to me. As usual one thing leads to another, and yeah — quite a lot had been going on.

“It’s a matter of sources trusting you, and also--the documents. So much is in there.”

Whitall wrote a more detailed story with staff writer Oralandar Brand-Williams. In addition to a denial of wrongdoing from Edwards’ wife, carried by both news outlets, Whitall quoted one of Edwards’ daughters, Issa Pointer-Stewart, who was appointed the singer’s power of attorney, saying she never heard his doctors say he had meningitis, the purported cause of death.

“We’d been working on it since Saturday when my colleague Motown beat writer Susan Whitall first had a conversation with an Edwards family member and was ready to go,” Brand-Williams messaged, referring to the story. “Always wanting our reporting to be solid, we just needed the cops statement and Brenda Edwards comments so we went up a few hours later than the STL Post Dispatch.”

Whitall elaborated, “I’ve always liked to put details in stories, where possible. It’s a human being, not just a name on a protection order. And for Detroiters, Motown stars are personal, in many cases they are also from our neighborhoods. I once asked Dennis the usual Detroit question — what were your cross streets? It was Chene and Gratiot, for him. Cass Tech. Eastern High. For years before Motown, he sang in a ‘bucket of blood’ club called Maul’s, on Joy Road.

Singer Bettye LaVette and arranger Paul Riser used to see him there a lot, I believe he met Aretha at that time as well.”

Editor’s Note: Richard Prince occasionally submits his column "Journal-isms" to "Media Matters." “Richard Prince’s Journal-isms” originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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