Supremes, The

Supremes, The, American vocal group, 1962-77. The Supremes were formed in Detroit, Mi., and were originally known as the Primettes—a female counterpart to the male vocal group, the Primes. The original members Betty McGlown (1941-2008), Florence Ballard (1943-76), and Mary Wilson (1944-2021) lived in the same housing project, and were joined by their high-school classmate, Diana Ross (1944- ), to form the group. McGlown subsequently left the group, and the remaining trio was signed to Motown Records in 1962 and renamed the Supremes. Although their first few singles were not successful, their luck changed with five consecutive #1 pop/R&B songs, beginning with “Where Did Our Love Go!” (1964), and including “Stop! In the Name of Love” (1965); many of their biggest hits were written by the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who were house composers for Motown. The label’s owner Berry Gordy oversaw the group’s training in deportment and etiquette, and dressed them in the finest fashions. The Supremes crossed over racial boundaries and helped spread the word of Black equality during the days of the push for civil rights. They regularly appeared on prime time television, including appearances on the popular Ed Sullivan Show, at a time when black performers were still not frequently seen. Gordy also successfully booked the group in Las Vegas and other large venues where Black acts rarely appeared at the time. As the group's success increased, Gordy increasingly groomed Ross—the most photogenic of the trio—to be the group’s leader and spokesperson, and in 1967 Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong (1939- ) and renamed “Diana Ross and the Supremes.” Ross remained with the group until 1970, when they had their final hit, “Someday (We’ll Be Together),” released in fall 1969. She was replaced by Jean Terrell (1944- ), and the group scored a few more hits with various different personnel before breaking up for good in the late ‘70s. The Supremes were hugely influential on more than just popular music, and were the models for the Broadway musical, Dreamgirls (1981), and the following film (2006). The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Ross's solo career began with her first #1 hit, a cover of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1970), and continued in the early '80s with the disco-flavored "Upside Down" (1980). She also enjoyed a brief film career, including starring roles in Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Mahagony (1975), and The Wiz (1978). She has been honored with several awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016).

See autobiographies by B. Gordy (1994), M. Wilson (1986); biography by J. Randi Taraborrelli (2014; Ross); study by M. Wilson, M. Bego (2019).

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