Motown music is attracting a whole new generation…and then some. You go, Detroit!!!
I know, you can see the hand gestures and the singers dancing together. For me, there’s just something about the classic Motown songs of the 60’s and 70’s. Seems wherever I am down, or I’m feelin’ low, a good tune by the Temptations, the Miracles or the Four Tops just picks me up and puts a smile on my face (let’s face it, the past months have been tough – for everyone). 60 years ago today, a budding genius named Berry Gordy signed an unknown group of high school girls to his budding label. After a number of duds, the girls looked to drift off into obscurity, until a simple song hit the charts – and I guess the rest is rock n roll history. The lead signer was of course Diana Ross, and her group the Supremes. Here’s some history on the early days, their rocket to stardom, the changes within the group and the end of the ride decades later. Thanks to Wikipedia, Allmusic and Google for the insights.
As you read through, be sure to pick one of these links and enjoy the groove.
Supremes Greatest Hits
Motown Greatest Hits
Earth Wind & Fire – Greatest Hits Live (Full Album)
- With twelve #1 pop singles, numerous gold recordings, sold out concerts, and regular television appearances, the Supremes were not only the most commercially successful female group of the Sixties, but among the top five pop/rock/soul acts of the decade.
- The Supremes started out as a quartet known as the Primettes. In 1959, two fifteen year olds, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, met at a talent show. Milton Jenkins, who managed a local doo wop group the Primes, wanted a sister group to accompany the Primes for stage performances. Jenkins asked Ballard to put together such an act.
- Ballard remembered Wilson and the two of them brought in sixteen year old Betty Travis. Prime’s member Paul Williams recommended a fifteen year old from Detroit’s Brewster Housing project Diane Ross and Jenkins named the group the Primettes after Diane’s parents gave their permission to join. The Primettes then started doing club dates.
- Betty Travis was forced to quit the Primettes because her parents wanted her to pay more attention to her studies. Barbara Martin took her place, but had to leave shortly, as did Ballard, under the same parental conditions. Wilson and Ross continued to work as duo until the two improved their grades and were allowed to rejoin the group.
- Ballard, Wilson, and Ross could all sing lead, but Ballard’s voice was considered the best and most powerful of the girls. According to Carolynn Gill of the Velvelettes, “Florence had a very strong gospel voice, and she was the original lead singer. When the group came to Motown, it was Flo’s group – she had formed it and named it”
- In 1960, the group met Ross’ neighbor William “Smokey” Robinson and auditioned for him in the basement of the home of his girlfriend Claudette Rogers in hopes of getting to Motown’s hitmaker Berry Gordy. Rogers would later become Robinson’s wife and an original member of the Miracles. The audition turned into a dead end, but they did audition for Gordy later, singing the Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby.” Gordy told them to come back after they completed high school.
- Undaunted the girls began hanging out in Motown’s office reception room. They continued doing local talent shows where they were spotted by Richard Morris, who brought them to Lupine Records owner/producer Bob West. They recorded two sides “Pretty Baby” with Wilson on lead and “Tears of Sorrow” with Ross on lead for West. Released in 1960, the record went nowhere and they were soon back hanging around Motown again, doing handclaps on Marvin Gaye’s early records and singing some backups for blues artist Mabel John.
- In January 1961 Barry Gordy finally signed them, but required them to change their name. Ballard who had formed the group named them the Supremes. Wilson and Ross initially disliked the name, but Gordy approved. By this time Ross was calling herself Diana Ross.
- The Supremes’ first single, issued on the Tamla in April 1961 was “I Want a Guy” and the second an R&B dance tune “Buttered Popcorn” with Ballard on the lead. Both went nowhere.
- The next three singles barely made the bottom of the Hot 100. Things were going so badly that in the middle of 1962 Ross took a job in cafeteria of Hudson’s Department store in Detroit and Martin left to get married.
- The best of their early releases “When the Love Light Starts Shining,” in the fall of 1963, reached #23 on the charts. By the fall of the 1964 the Supremes had released eight singles with none even making the Top 20.
- “Where Did Our Love Go,” a Holland-Dozier-Holland song rejected by the Marvelettes, was brought to the Supremes. By August “Where Did Our Love Go” reached #1 on the Pop and R&B charts. In a matter of weeks, the Supremes went from no billing on the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show to top billing.
- Ross was now doing all the lead vocals, which did not always sit well with Ballard. Said Carolynn Gill of the Velvelettes, “It was Berry’s choice to put Diana as lead. I think Diana’s voice appealed to Berry because it was young, crisp commercial sound; maybe Flo’s voice was a little too strong for that time. I don’t think Berry chose Diana because he particularly liked her more than the other girls. They were after all just a bunch of high school kids to him”
- “Baby Love” followed in September 1964 and reached #1 Pop, R&B, and in the U.K. The Supremes with “Baby Love” became the first all-girl group to reach number one in England.
- The Supremes became the first American group to have three number ones from the same album when “Come See About Me,’ released in October 1964, reached number one.
- The Supremes 1964 album “Where Did Our Love Go” featured a song entitled “Send Me No Flowers” about whether sending flowers can take the place of true affection. A floral bouquet may not be as satisfying as a hug but there is always an occasion to send a flower delivery.
- With “Stop! In the Name of Love,” the Supremes became the first group to have four number ones in a row on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also reached number 2 R&B and number seven in England.
- The Supremes began on the historic Motown Revue tour through Europe. It was while on this tour this tour that the Supremes developed their hand motions (resembling a traffic cop stopping oncoming car) for “Stop! In the Name of Love” in the men’s room of a London TV studio with the help of Berry Gordy and the Temptation’s Paul Williams and Melvin Franklin prior to a live appearance.
- “Back in My Arms Again, on June 12, 1965, became the Supremes fifth #1.
- Not only were the Supremes competing head on with the British invasion, they were becoming superstars in the realm of pop entertainment. On July 29, 1965 they headlined New York’s famous Copacabana nightclub.
- The same month “Nothing But Heartaches” was released and broke the string of number ones, only reaching #11. But it was a short-lived decline as “I Hear a Symphony” reached number one on November 20th.
- In early 1966 they had hits with “My World is Empty Without You” (#5) and “Love is Like a Itching in My Heart” (#9). “You Can’t Hurry Love” reached #1 on September 10, 1966 which began a new string of #1s that included “You Keep Me Hanging On,” “Love is Here and Now You Are Gone,” and “The Happening”, the last of ten #1s written by Holland-Dozier-Holland for the Supremes. They left Motown to form their own labels, Hot Wax and Invictus.
- Friction between Ballard and Ross had taken its toll and Ballard missed two shows in Montreal and New Orleans. Part way through the Supremes appearance at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Ballard was fired by Gordy and replaced by Cindy Birdsong of the Bluebelles.
- Gordy now renamed the group Diana Ross and the Supremes. Though Diana was gaining stature on her way to a solo career, the new lineup was not nearly as successful saleswise. Over the next two years twelve singles were released with only “Love Child” reaching number one.
- “Someday We’ll Be Together,” issued in October 1969, became the Supremes last number one record, the trios last record together, and they performed it in the last of twenty appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Also, it was the last song they sang together when they appeared at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas on January 14, 1970. Then while on stage Ross introduced her replacement Jean Terrell.
- On March 7, 1970 the Jean Terrell led Supremes reached the Billboard charts with “Up the Ladder to the Roof” (#10) and proved the group name still had power even without Ross. In fact, their Right On album with Terrell did better (#25) than the double live farewell album with Ross (#46).
- The new Supremes third single “Stoned Love” (#7 pop) was a million seller in 1970 and became the Supremes eighth number one on the R&B charts.
- In June 1972, Birdsong left for home and family and was replaced by Lynda Lawrence, who was followed by a succession of replacements that included Sherrie Payne, Birdsong again, and Susaye Greene. On December 1976 Mary Wilson left and was replaced by Karen Jackson.
- The Supremes last pop single was “You’re Driving My Wheel” (#85 1976), and the group was soon disbanded. Florence Ballard, after leaving the Supremes in 1967, did two singles for ABC Records and then spent several years fighting Motown in a lawsuit over her firing. She lost the suit, spent sometime on welfare attempting to support her three children and despondent, Ballard died of a heart attack at Monte Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit at the age of only thirty two.
- The driven and aggressive Ross realized her every dream as a superstar performer and actress of the 70s and 80s. She had forty-one Hot 100 hits and her movie career included roles in Lady Sings the Blues and The Wiz. Mary Wilson went on to form her own group Mary Wilson and the Supremes, with Karen Jackson and Karen Ragland.
- In May 1983, she, Ross, and Birdsong reunited for Motown’s 25th anniversary TV show and in 1984, Wilson wrote her story Dream Girl: My life as a Supreme.
- The Supremes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as the number one female group. Together they had 18 Hot 100 hits as the Supremes, nine as Diana Ross and the Supremes, three as Diana Ross and the Supremes and Temptations, twelve as the Supremes after Ross left, and two as the Supremes and the Four Tops. Obviously, the whole was always greater than its parts to its fans, and the Supremes sound as good at the end as they did when the hits first started.
DO YOU LIKE CONTESTS?
As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I. Love. My. Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me
a quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good. :-))))