Before they were known as The Supremes, the trio of Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross were part of a group known as the Primettes. On January 15, 1962, the trio was signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records en route to a stellar career and a number of hits.
The Primettes were an off-shoot quartet and sister group to The Primes, featuring Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of The Temptations fame. The quartet consisted of Ballard, Ross, and Wilson, along with Betty McGlowin and Barbara Martin.
Ballard chose The Supremes name on her own, and the group was later signed. It has been reported that Ross initially didn’t like the name change as it sounded too masculine.
Now a trio with the departure of Martin, the group struggled early on to notch a big hit. However, they were hard-working and added their vocals to hits for Motown legends like Marvin Gaye as background and session singers. Under Gordy’s direction, Ross became the face of the group, which sparked some tension in the trio. Still, huge hits like “Baby Love” and “Stop! In The Name Of Love” quickly turned the group into one of the label’s superstar acts.
With success came conflict, chiefly between Ballard, the founder of the group, and Ross. There were also rumors that Gordy took special interest in the group because of personal ties to Ross. (The two finally admitted publicly, years later, that Gordy was the father of Ross’ oldest daughter, Rhonda.)
Ballard began struggling with a drinking problem and was fired from the group in 1967. Though she signed a solo deal, she was never successful as a solo artist and eventually became a full-fledged alcoholic. Eventually, though she rebounded and
In 1970, Ross embarked on a solo career and Wilson became the group’s lead vocalist. Ballard died in 1976 of cardiac arrest, after having started a successful return to singing.
Several iterations of the group existed until 1977 when the group officially disbanded.
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