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The Supremes Overview, History & Members | Who were The Supremes?

Instructor: Megan Krance

Megan has tutored in middle school level mathematics and high school level Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus for six years. They have a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Applied Mathematics from Robert Morris University in Moon Township, PA.

Learn about the Supremes, such as their history and legacy. Explore the Supremes' members, such as Diana Ross and Florence Ballard. See some of the Supremes' hits. Updated: 01/05/2023

An Introduction to the Supremes

The Supremes were a vastly popular American group in the 1960s with a legacy that has lived on for years. They are a highly ranked act in American musical history. Their music genre is primarily pop-soul sounds. They also incorporated doo-wop, disco, and Broadway show tunes in their songs, which helped them gain massive success.

The Supremes

black and white image of the Supremes in long dresses performing

History of the Supremes: The Primettes

The Supremes originated in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959 as part of a duo called the Primes and the Primettes. The Primes were a group that led to the formation of the singing group the Temptations. The Primes group was founded by future Temptations member Paul Williams. The founding members of the Primettes were Diana Ross, Betty McGlown, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. All four young women were from the Brewster-Douglass public housing project in Detroit. In 1960, the girls released their only single under the Primettes name on the local Lupine music label. Shortly after, McGlown left the group after becoming engaged. She was then replaced by Barbara Martin.

With famed singer and producer Smokey Robinson's help, the group was able to secure an audition with the popular Motown Records. Motown founder Berry Gordy signed the Primettes to a Motown contract in 1961. Gordy also changed the group's name to the Supremes. A year later, Barbara Martin left the group. Ross, Ballard, and Wilson remained and began creating famous songs that are still played today.

The group did not gain instant success and stardom. It took the group and the record label some time to create the specific image and sound that made the Supremes legendary. Gordy tried to pair the group with different songs and musicians for a few years before finally finding a perfect match. In late 1963, Gordy paired the Supremes with the producing and songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Together, the Supremes and Holland-Dozier-Holland produced their first number one song, which was "Where Did Our Love Go" (1964). Holland-Dozier-Holland also focused on Ross's singing while adding a soft rhythm section with chiming bells. This modern sound led to the Supremes success in the following years.

The trio recorded ten number one hit singles between 1964 and 1967. Some of their other famous songs include "Baby Love" (1964), "Stop in the Name of Love" (1965), and "Can't Hurry Love" (1966). In 1967, Gordy decided to make Diana Ross the lead singer of the Supremes and replaced the exiting Florence Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. Gordy also renamed the group Diana Ross and the Supremes to signify the focus on Ross's vocals and growing career.

Who are the Supremes?

The Supremes group was initially composed of four members, but when Barbara Martin left after becoming engaged, the group decided to continue on as a trio. The famed original trio was composed of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. This trio created songs that have been able to withstand the test of time.

Florence Ballard

Florence Ballard was one of the founding members of the Supremes. Ballard was born on June 30, 1943, in Detroit, Michigan. She befriended neighborhood girl Mary Wilson after they competed against one another in a local talent competition. Ballard was the one who recruited friends Wilson and Ross into joining the Primettes. Ballard remained with Wilson and Ross when the Supremes were formed. However, after a dispute with the record label, Ballard decided to leave the group. She tried to be a solo vocalist but never gained any success. She was the mother to three girls and experienced constant financial woes. Ballard died at age 32 in 1976 just as she was being rediscovered as a vocalist. Florence Ballard's cause of death was a heart attack.

Florence Ballard with Mary Wilson and Diana Ross

early black and white image of Ballard with Wilson and Ross

Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson was another one of the founding members of the Supremes. She was born on March 6, 1944, in Greenville, Mississippi. She and her family moved to Detroit in 1952. She joined the Primettes in 1959. After Ross left the Supremes, Wilson was determined to make the group survive. A number of women replaced Ross and Ballard, but Wilson was the only original member to remain with the group until the Supremes officially disbanded in 1977. Wilson inspired the character Lorell Robinson in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls. Wilson also attempted a solo career, but never reached the success of the Supremes. She died on February 8, 2021.

Mary Wilson

Color image of Mary Wilson with her hand raised up in a stop position

Diana Ross

Diana Ross was a founding member of the group and later became appointed as the lead singer of the Supremes. She was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 26, 1944. After being signed to Motown Records, Ross became quickly favored by producer Berry Gordy and was later named the lead of the group. She left the group in 1970 and ventured out on a successful solo career. She has had an array of hit songs throughout the decades, such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1970) and "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" (1970). She has also ventured into the acting field. Ross's performance in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Ross also famously starred in The Wiz (1978) movie musical. Ross received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2007, and she continues to perform around the world.

Diana Ross

Diana Ross sitting in a white dress at a White House ceremony

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the singers of the Supremes?

The trio who originally sang in the Supremes was made of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. Diana Ross was promoted as lead singer in 1967. After Ballard and Ross left the group, several other female singers joined the group with Wilson.

How many Supremes were there originally?

The Supremes was originally composed of four members: Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin. However, Barbara Martin left the group after she became engaged. The group decided to continue as a trio.

What are the Supremes known for?

The Supremes group is known for their pop soul sound mixed with disco and doo-wop. They are also known for their feminine image, with sequined gowns and makeup. The Supremes is one of the most successful female groups of all time.

How many Supremes are still alive?

Of all of the members of the Supremes, only two are still alive today. Diana Ross, who became the group's lead singer, and Cindy Birdsong, Ballard's replacement, are the only Supremes still living.

What was the Supremes' first #1 hit?

The Supremes had many hit songs throughout the group's career. Their first number one hit song was "Where Did Our Love Go," released in 1964.

How many #1 hits did the Supremes have?

From 1964 to 1967, the Supremes had ten number one hits. Some of the hit songs from the group include "Baby Love," "Stop in the Name of Love," and "Can't Hurry Love."

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