The Supremes

  • Female R&B group, formed in 1959 in Detroit MI. Founding members were vocalists Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diane Ross (soon to become Diana) and Betty McGlown.
  • The original name of the group was the Primettes. Ballard was friends with 2 members of a local Detroit group called the Primes. The manager of the Primes created the sister group the Primettes. They sang covers of popular music of the time. In 1960, after winning a talent contest, the group aspired to make a record, hoping to sign with Barry Gordy’s new Detroit based label Motown. The girls were still in high school at the time.
  • Gordy wanted them to wait until they were older.  So, they recorded a single with another label – Tears of Sorrow, with B-side song Pretty Baby – written by Ross, Ballard, and friend Richard Morris. The single did not chart, and McGlown left the group to get married. She was replaced with Barbara Martin, another Detroit singer.
  • By early 1961, Gordy finally agreed to sign them, but only if they changed their name. They considered the Darleens, the Sweet Ps, the Melodees, the Royaltones and the Jewelettes, and finally settled on the Supremes, though Ross did not like the name.
  • In 1962, Martin left the group, and the Supremes continued as a trio.
  • Their first 6 singles with Motown did not chart in the top 40. By late 1963, they finally hit #23 with When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes. By the next summer, they had their first #1 hit – Where Did Our Love Go. This was followed by 4 consecutive #1 hits – Baby Love, Come See About Me, Stop! In the Name of Love, and Back In My Arms Again.
  • By 1967, the name of the group was changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes. Ballard in particular did not like the extra attention that Diana Ross was getting, and she would not show up for recording dates, or would be drunk while performing. This led to her dismissal from the group, and she was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Ballard attempted legal action against Motown and the group, and a solo career – nothing was successful, and she died from coronary thrombosis at the age of 32.
  • Ross left the group in 1970 to start her solo career. She was replaced by Jean Terrell. The rebranded Supremes had several hits in the early 70s. More changes occurred in the make-up of the group. In 1977, they performed their final concert in London.
  • They released 29 studio albums and 4 live albums. Of their 66 singles, 12 reached #1, making them America’s most successful vocal group – even today. Rolling Stone selected them as #97 on their list of 100 greatest artists of all time, in 2004.
  • The Tony award winning musical Dreamgirls is loosely based on the career of the Supremes.
  • Here’s a video of the group performing Baby Love. Gotta love Diana Ross’ big hair!

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