The Supremes

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The Supremes
Photo - Courtesy: Bettmann Collection

The most successful American performers of the 1960s, The Supremes, for a time, rivalled even The Beatles reeling off five No.1 singles in a row. The Supremes were the most commercially successful of Motown‘s acts and are, to date, America’s most successful vocal group with 12 No.1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

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, (who went on to form the Temptations), recommended a fifteen-year-old from Detroit’s Brewster Housing project, Diane Ross. Jenkins named the group the Primettes after Diane’s parents gave their permission for her to join.

In the same year, they met Ross’ neighbour 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 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 Gordy 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 first two singles “I Want A Guy” and “Buttered Popcorn” failed to make the charts and more releases failed to sell. The 1962 single release “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” gave The Supremes their first Top 30 hit (No. 23) and in the same year they struck gold with the Holland–Dozier–Holland penned “Where Did Our Love Go” which gave them their first of five US No.1 hits in a row.

More hits followed and during 1965 -1967 The Supremes once again topped the charts with “I Hear a Symphony”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” and “The Happening”. Also in 1966, their ninth studio album The Supremes A Go-Go gave the girls their first US No.1 and the first album by an all-female group to reach the top of the Billboard 200 album charts.

During 1967, Motown president Berry Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross & The Supremes and replaced Ballard with Cindy Birdsong.

Ross left to pursue a solo career in 1970 and was replaced by Jean Terrell, at which point the group’s name reverted to The Supremes. After 1972, the line-up changed more frequently; Lynda Laurence, Scherrie Payne, and Susaye Greene all became members of the group during the mid-1970s, (The Supremes disbanded in 1977 after 18 years).

Following her departure from the Supremes in 1970, Ross released her debut solo album, Diana Ross, which contained the hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and the No.1 hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. She released the album Touch Me in the Morning in 1973. Its title track reached No. 1, becoming her second solo hit. By 1975, the Mahogany soundtrack included her 3rd No.1 hit “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”. Her 1980 album Diana spawned the No.1 hit “Upside Down” and the international hit “I’m Coming Out”. After leaving Motown, Ross achieved her sixth and final No.1 hit with the duet “Endless Love”.

In July 1971 Ballard sued Motown for royalty payments she believed she was due to receive; she was defeated in court by Motown. Later that year Ballard’s plight started to be reported in newspapers as word got around that the singer had applied for welfare. Florence Ballard died on February 22, 1976.

In 1981, the Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls opened at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway and ran for 1,522 performances. The musical, loosely based on the history of the Supremes, follows the story of the Dreams, an all-female singing trio from Chicago who become music superstars. A film adaptation of Dreamgirls starring Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles and Eddie Murphy was released by DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures in December 2006.

The Supremes were twice nominated for a Grammy Award—for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording (“Baby Love”, 1965) and Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Group Vocal Performance (“Stop! In the Name of Love”, 1966)—but never won an award in the competition. Three of their songs were added to the Grammy Hall of Fame: “Where Did Our Love Go” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (both 1999) and “Stop! In the Name of Love” (2001). The group (Ross, Wilson and Ballard) was named as one of eight recipients to receive a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in 2023.

Important Dates In The Life Of The Supremes:

On this day in music
8 Aug 2022
American singer, songwriter, and record producer Lamont Herbert Dozier died at his home near Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 81. He co-wrote and produced 14 US Billboard No.1 hits as a member of Holland–Dozier–Holland, songwriting and production team and worked with many artists including Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, Four Tops, Freda Payne and The Isley Brothers. Dozier had another No.1 hit as a songwriter in the 1980s, joining with Phil Collins to write the song 'Two Hearts' for the movie soundtrack for Buster.
7 Jan 2022
Canadian musician R. Dean Taylor died at home at the age of 82. The singer, songwriter, and record producer worked for Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. He co-wrote hits for the Four Tops, Temptations and Diana Ross & the Supremes. As a singer, Taylor is best known for his chart-topping 1970 hit 'Indiana Wants Me' and the 1974 hit 'There's a Ghost in My House' (first released in 1967).
13 Jan 2021
American musician Tim Bogert died from cancer age 76. He was bass guitarist and vocalist with Vanilla Fudge who had the 1967 US No. 6 hit with a psychedelic rock remake of The Supremes song 'You Keep Me Hanging On'. He was also a member of Cactus, Boxer and the power trio Beck, Bogert & Appice. In 2010, Bogert "reluctantly" retired from touring due to a motorcycle accident.
4 Mar 2020
American singer, Barbara Martin died age 76. She is best known as one of the original members of Motown group The Supremes. She left the group in spring 1962.
1 Aug 1971
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour started on prime-time American TV. By this time, Sonny and Cher had stopped producing hit singles so the duo decided to sing and tell jokes in nightclubs across the country. CBS head of programming Fred Silverman saw them one evening and offered them their show. Musical guests who appeared on the show include Glen Campbell, Jackson 5, The Supremes and Chuck Berry.
14 Oct 1969
The Supremes released 'Someday, We'll Be Together,' their last single with Diana Ross. It became the last of twelve American No.1 pop singles for Diana Ross & the Supremes on the Motown label. Although it was released as the final Supremes song featuring Diana Ross, it was recorded as Ross' first solo single and Supremes members Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong didn't sing on the recording.
8 Apr 1964
The Supremes record 'Where Did Our Love Go' at Motown Studios in Detroit. The song would become their first US No.1 single. Originally founded as the Primettes in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959, the Supremes were the most commercially successful of Motown's acts and are, to date, America's most successful vocal group with 12 No.1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.


  1. Allison Payne

    November 1, 2020 at 7:05 am

    I love the extra music that Facebook provides,it brings me up,and gives me happiness,when I hear the great tunes,and the stories of success and talent that means so much to the individual artists.

  2. Candace Reinink

    November 22, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Best music ever. What a great time to grow up in Detroit and have this wonderful music be a part of my life. Thank you Supremes . And thank you too for showing us young girls how to be classy ladies.

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