Dennis Edwards, the Detroit singer whose gritty, electric vocals led the Temptations into a new phase of their career, died Thursday night in a Chicago hospital. He was 74.

Edwards, who joined the iconic Motown group in 1968 in the wake of David Ruffin's firing, was the prominent voice on enduring Tempts hits such as "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" and "Cloud Nine." He remained a staple of the core group through the 1980s, and in the '90s formed a splinter act that eventually toured as the Temptations Review Featuring Dennis Edwards.

A Motown Museum representative confirmed Edwards' death. The singer lived in the St. Louis area, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he died of complications from meningitis, for which he was initially hospitalized last spring.

"My heart is very heavy," Martha Reeves told the Free Press. "I feel like I've been hit by a sledgehammer."

Reeves said that she and fellow Motown alumni such as Mary Wilson had heard that Edwards was hospitalized, but that details had been hard to come by.

"We've been praying that he made a recovery," Reeves said. "We should all be in better communications with each other, because we're a family."

Former Motown songwriter and A&R chief Mickey Stevenson recently saw Edwards during an L.A. visit. The Temptations singer "was getting a cold," but otherwise appeared normal, Stevenson said.

Through the years, Edwards was defined by his boundless energy onstage and off, Stevenson said.

"Here's a guy who could jump up, sing and dance at any given moment, like there was no end," Stevenson said. "Which was a good thing. He was always trying to keep things on the up. He was energized and kept a smile on his face."