The Supremes

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The Supremes

Pop vocal group

For the Record

Scored First Hit Single

Changed Emphasis and Personnel

Ross Featured

Farewell Shows

Final Breakup in 1977

Selected discography


More than any other Motown group or artist, the Supremes achieved Motowns goal of appealing to audiences of all races. The groups widespread popularity began in the 1960s and resulted in twelve number-one hits on Billboards pop charts. That puts them third on the all-time list, behind only the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

Although the Supremes employed various line-ups, the group achieved their greatest success with Diana Ross as lead singer and Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard as backing vocalists. Their greatest hits were all written by Motowns songwriting/production teamand fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famersof brothers Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier (known as Holland-Dozier-Holland).

The Supremes began in Detroit in the late 1950s as a quartet known as the Primettes. As young teenagers in junior high and high school, they attempted to audition for Berry Gordy at Motown, but he considered them too young at the time. As the Primettes, they recorded for Lupine Records, a local Detroit label, both as a featured

For the Record

Group formed c 1960 in Detroit as vocal quartet the Primettes; original members included Florence Ballard (born June 30, 1943, in Detroit; died February 22, 1976, in Detroit), Diana Ross (born March 26, 1944, in Detroit), Mary Wilson (born March 4, one source says March 6, 1944, in Detroit), and Barbara Martin , who appeared as fourth member on the Primettes first three singles.

Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong (born December 15, 1939, in Camden, NJ) in 1967. Jean Terrell (born November 26, c. 1944, in Texas) replaced Ross in 1970; was replaced by Scheme Payne (born November 14, 1944) in 1973; other incarnations of The Supremes included Lynda Laurence, Susaye Green , and Karen Jackson; group disbanded, 1977.

Awards: The SupremesRoss, Wilson, and Ballardwere inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1988.

group and as backing singers. These recordings are now available as reissues on various specialty labels.

The group persisted in their attempts to land a contract with Motown, however, and by the time they graduated from high school, they had become a trio, signed a contract with Motown, and released several singles. According to the liner notes from their first album, Meet the Supremes, the girls had just graduated from high school when the album was released. None of the songs on the album were very popular.

Scored First Hit Single

The groups first six singles were produced either by Berry Gordy or Smokey Robinson. At that time, Robinson had been generating hits for Mary Wells in addition to his duties as singer-songwriter for the Miracles. None of these early singles performed very well, and the group really didnt click until their seventh single, released late in 1963. Although the group reportedly didnt like the song, they went ahead and recorded When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes. It was their first Holland-Dozier-Holland recording, and the beginning of a remarkable collaboration that would yield twelve number-one hits.

The Supremes first string of consecutive top pop hitsall written and produced by the Holland-Dozier-Holland teambegan in July 1964 with Where Did Our Love Go, which was followed by Baby Love, Come See About Me, Stop! In The Name of Love, and Back in My Arms Again. Led by Rosss vocals, the Supremes captured the attention of American teenagers with a brand of pop/rock that had a good beat for dancing, complemented by striking melodies and lyrics that stood up to repeated listening. Within a few years, the group would also be playing the nightclub circuit and singing for more mature audiences.

By the fall of 1965, the Supremes were in great demand for television appearances, which included variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and Red Skelton, and several Hullabaloo shows. The group toured the Far East, and upon their return to the states made their first Las Vegas appearance at the Flamingo Hotel. By the end of the year, I Hear a Symphony was added to their list of chart-topping hits. The song featured a lush musical background provided by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

With the help of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Supremes began another string of top hits in 1966 that would take them into the next year. My World Is Empty Without You and Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart, their first two songs of the year, only reached the top ten. Those songs were followed by four straight number ones, You Cant Hurry Love, You Keep Me Hangin On, Love Is Here and Now Youre Gone, and The Happening.

Changed Emphasis and Personnel

In retrospect, what happened next to the Supremes may have marked the beginning of their decline in popularity. They were Motowns most popular singing group of the time, and their schedule of live appearances had become very demanding by mid-1967. In live performances, the group was now being billed as Diana Ross and the Supremes, a change in nomenclature that was adopted by other Motown groups as well, to feature the names of lead singers like Smokey Robinson and Martha Reeves.

It was at this juncture that one of the Supremes, Florence Ballard, was removed from the group and replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Birdsong was a talented backup singer from Patti LaBelles group, the Blue Belles. Depending on the perspective, Ballard was either a victim of Berry Gordys greed and Diana Rosss ambition, or she brought about her own downfall through her own behavior and unrealistic expectations. Motown would explain her departure from the group by saying she was exhausted from the girls demanding schedule. In a lawsuit she would later charge Motown, as well as present and future Supremes, with a conspiracy to oust her from the group. Sadly, she was unable to mount her own solo career, and she died in 1976 of cardiac arrest.

Ross Featured

Most casual fans of the group were probably unaware of the personnel change. Indeed, Motown promoted the group in such a way as to downplay the individuality of the groups members, at least until the Supremes became a launching pad for Rosss rise to individual stardom. With Ross clearly featured as the groups lead singer, the Supremes achieved two more top pop hits, Love Child in 1968 and Someday Well Be Together in 1969. The group joined the Temptations to host Motowns first television special, T.C.B.: Taking Care of Business, in the Christmas season of 1968. In addition to several albums, the collaboration resulted in a number-two pop hit, Im Gonna Make You Love Me, that featured the lead vocals of Ross and Eddie Kendricks.

Reflections, the first song released by the Ross-Wilson-Birdsong lineup, also reached number two, and their next song, In and Out of Love, made the top ten. Again reflecting Motowns lack of concern with the groups individual members, Reflections was recorded when Ballard was still a member of the group, according to Mary Wilson. Indeed, Wilson points to other substitutes being used as unidentified backup vocalists on records and in live performances when necessary.

Farewell Shows

Motown had always groomed the Supremes for the posh nightclub circuit as well as for the charts. It was appropriate, then, that the Supremes farewell shows would be held at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in January, 1970. Highlights from these performances can be found on the double-album set, Farewell. In addition to a medley of their mid-sixties hits, Ross led the group through a variety of show tunes and pop songs. Reflected on the Farewell album is Wilsons statement that Ross, who was leaving the group, really wanted to upstage us that night.

The Ross decade was over for the Supremes. She would go on to even greater heights as a solo artist and film star, not leaving Motown until the end of the 1970s. As for the Supremes, a succession of personnel changes would finally leave the group with little or no audience, and they would be out of existence before the end of the decade.

Jean Terrell replaced Ross as the groups lead singer. She had been discovered in 1968 by Berry Gordy, who heard her singing at Miamis Fountainbleau Hotel with her brothers group, Ernie Terrell & The Heavyweights. The Terrell-Wilson-Birdsong edition of the Supremes was the most popular post-Ross combination. They recorded such hits as Stoned Love, which charted in the top ten in 1970; Nathan Jones in 1971, which reached the top twenty; and Floy Joy in 1972. The latter two songs were also top ten rhythm & blues hits.

Final Breakup in 1977

When Terrell left the group in 1973 to get married, the Supremes didnt release any albums until her replacement Scherrie Payne joined the group in 1975. The Supremes disbanded in 1977, although Wilson toured the United Kingdom in 1978 with Karen Ragland and Karen Jackson performing as the Supremes.

The fame of the Supremes still lives on, however. In 1988 the group, featuring the lineup of Ross, Wilson, and Ballard, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for their achievements. Their most popular songs are still heard on radio todayindeed, superstar Ross still performs them in her solo concertsand they are recalled fondly as a major part of the celebrated Motown Sound. As Rolling Stone stated in elevating the group to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The Supremes embodied the Motown sound that kept America dancing throughout the Sixties. With their many great singles, the citation concluded, the Supremes set a gorgeous new standard for Top Forty pop.

Selected discography

Singles; as the Supremes

When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, Motown, 1963.

Run, Run, Run, Motown, 1964.

Where Did Our Love Go, Motown, 1964.

Baby Love, Motown, 1964.

Come See About Me, Motown, 1964.

Stop! In the Name of Love, Motown, 1965.

Back in My Arms Again, Motown, 1965.

I Hear a Symphony, Motown, 1965.

Childrens Christmas Song, Motown, 1965.

My World Is Empty Without You, Motown, 1965.

Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart, Motown, 1966.

You Cant Hurry Love, Motown, 1966.

You Keep Me Hangin On, Motown, 1966.

Love Is Here and Now Youre Gone, Motown, 1967.

The Happening, Motown, 1967.

Singles; as Diana Ross and the Supremes

Reflections, Motown, 1967.

In and Out of Love, Motown, 1967.

Love Child, Motown, 1968.

(With the Temptations) Im Gonna Make You Love Me, Motown, 1968.

Someday Well Be Together, Motown, 1969.

Later singles; as the Supremes

Stoned Love, Motown, 1970.

(With the Four Tops) River Deep, Mountain High, Motown, 1970.

Nathan Jones, Motown, 1971.

Floy Joy, Motown, 1971.

Albums; as the Supremes

Meet the Supremes, Motown, 1963.

Where Did Our Love Go, Motown, 1964.

A Bit of Liverpool, Motown, 1964.

Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop, Motown, 1965.

We Remember Sam Cooke, Motown, 1965.

More Hits by the Supremes, Motown, 1965.

Merry Christmas, Motown, 1965.

Supremes at the Copa, Motown, 1965.

I Hear a Symphony, Motown, 1966.

Supremes a Go Go, Motown, 1966.

Supremes Sing Holland, Dozier, Holland, Motown, 1967.

Albums; as Diana Ross and the Supremes

Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart, Motown, 1967.

Diana Ross and the Supremes Greatest Hits, Motown, 1967.

Reflections, Motown, 1968.

Diana Ross and the Supremes Sing and Perform Funny Girl, Motown, 1968.

Diana Ross and the Supremes Live at Londons Talk of Town, Motown, 1968.

Diana Ross and the Supremes Join the Temptations, Motown, 1968.

Love Child, Motown, 1968.

(With the Temptations) TCB, Motown, 1968.

Let the Sunshine In, Motown, 1969.

(With the Temptations) Together, Motown, 1969.

Cream of the Crop, Motown, 1969.

(With the Temptations) On Broadway, Motown, 1969.

Diana Ross and the Supremes Greatest Hits, Volume 3, Motown, 1970.

Farewell, Motown, 1970.

Later albums; as the Supremes

Right On, Motown, 1970.

(With the Four Tops) The Magnificent Seven, Motown, 1970.

New Ways but Love Stays, Motown, 1970.

(With the Four Tops) The Return of the Magnificent Seven, Motown, 1971.

Touch, Motown, 1971.

(With the Four Tops) Dynamite, Motown, 1971.

Floy Joy, Motown, 1972.

The Supremes, Motown, 1972.

Anthology, Motown, 1974.

The Supremes, Motown, 1975.

High Energy, Motown, 1976.

Mary, Scheme & Susaye, Motown, 1976.

At Their Best, Motown, 1978.



Betrock, Alan, Girl Groups: The Story Of A Sound, Delilah Books, 1982.

Bianco, David, Heat Wave: The Motown Fact Book, Pierian Press, 1988.

Hirshey, Gerri, Nowhere To Run, Times Books, 1984.

Turner, Tony, with Barbara Aria, All That Glittered: My Life With The Supremes, Dutton, 1990.

Wilson, Mary, Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme, St. Martins, 1986.

Wilson, Mary, Supreme Faith: Someday Well Be Together, Harper & Row, 1990.


Rolling Stone, November 11, 1988.

David Bianco

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The Supremes

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