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The Supremes

The Supremes were a wildly successful Motown singing group from the 1960s. Though the personnel changed frequently over the years, the Supremes began as Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown, old friends who had met in a public housing project in Detroit, Michigan. The quartet were originally known as The Primettes and made a single for Lupine in 1960. During that same year, McGlown left the group to concentrate on her school studies and was replaced by Barbara Martin. In January 1961, they signed a contract with Motown but then were told by Motown president Berry Gordy to change their group name. Ballard chose the name "Supremes". Shortly thereafter, Martin left to start a family and the group continued as a trio.

When the group began, all of the members took turns singing lead; but in 1962, Berry Gordy made Diana Ross the sole lead singer. After a string of unsuccessful singles and a debut album ("Meet the Supremes"), they managed to have their first Top 40 hit in 1963 ("When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes", #23) The next year, they had their first #1 hit "Where Did Our Love Go" and four more #1 hits: "Baby Love" (which also went to #1 in Britain), "Come See About Me" (both 1964), "Stop! In the Name of Love", and "Back in My Arms Again" (both 1965).

After 1965, the Supremes' singles were less uniformly massive, though they still charted on a regular basis. Personnel problems within the group and within Motown Records' stable of performers led to tension among the Supremes. Because of her excessive drinking and growing unprofessional behavior, Florence Ballard was replaced in 1967 by Cindy Birdsong (Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles); she attempted a solo career with ABC Records, but her two 1968 singles failed to chart anywhere and her solo album was never released; she eventually sunk into poverty living on welfare and died of cardiac arrest on February 22, 1976 (age 32). When Birdsong joined the group, the Supremes became Diana Ross & the Supremes while personality problems continued to plague the group. Rumors of a possible solo career by Ross helped to tear the group apart. This was finally announced in 1969, and Ross officially left in 1970, replaced by Jean Terrell. In 1972, they had their last Top 20 hit "Floy Joy" (#16) and shortly, their popularity began to wane very highly. Birdsong left to start a family and was replaced by Lynda Laurence (a former member of Stevie Wonder's backup group Wonderlove. In late 1973, Terrell, who wished to leave the group, was replaced by Scherrie Payne (sister of Freda Payne), and ironically, Laurence left for the same reason as Birdsong and was replaced by Birdsong. They continue to record and perform with very little success, but they managed to have a #1 disco hit with the song "He's My Man" (1975). In 1976, Birdsong, dissatisfied with the management of the Supremes, left again and was replaced by Susaye Greene, another former member of Wonderlove. During that same year, the Supremes had their final Top 40 hit "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking". In June 1977, the Supremes performed their farewell concert at the Drury Lane Theatre in London and officially disbanded.