The Michigan Homes of ‘The Supremes’
Detroit's Historical Society says that in the beginning, there were four Supremes: Florence Ballard (who founded and created the group), Betty McGlown, Mary Wilson.....and the last to join, Diane (later Diana) Ross. The group was dubbed “The Primettes” as the female version of another group, “The Primes", who would later change their name to “The Temptations”.
Betty got married and left the group in 1960, replaced by Barbara Martin. These four girls signed with Motown in 1961 as “The Supremes” (a name picked by Florence) and began as backing vocalists for other Motown artists. In October, Barbara announced she and her husband were going to have a baby, and she eventually left the group in 1962. Betty McGlown passed away in 2008 at age 66, and Barbara Martin died at age 76 in 2020.
Now a trio, and after failed attempts at hit singles, the group was being called “the no-hit Supremes” around the Motown offices. Finally, in 1963 they cracked the Top 40 with “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” (#23) and the following year they zoomed to #1 with “Where Did Our Love Go”. Their career was off and running.
Through bouts of depression, alcoholism, disappointment in the group's direction, and anger toward Berry Gordy's favoritism toward Diana Ross, Florence missed various gigs by being too inebriated to perform. In 1967, Gordy had enough and replaced Florence with Cindy Birdsong, formerly with Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles.
In the 1970s, Florence dealt with separation from her husband, court defeats, foreclosure, depression, and poverty. In an attempt to help, Mary Wilson coaxed her back to The Supremes after Diana split for a solo career.
Florence joined the newly-formed Supremes as a fourth member, but she refused to sing. She just wanted to play tambourine and let the others do the vocals. Florence entered rehab and was making a comeback in the mid-70s when she was hospitalized in 1976. On February 22 1976, Florence Ballard – founder of the group – passed away from cardiac arrest, caused by a coronary artery blood clot. She was 32.
Mary Wilson was the scorcher of the group, with admittedly many love affairs under her belt, including Tom Jones, and Duke Fakir of The Four Tops among them. Mary was the mainstay of The Supremes, being the only member that lasted throughout the group's entire run of ten different members. The sex symbol of the group, Mary died in her sleep in February 2021 at age 76.
What can I say about Diana Ross? She is still recording, performing, and collecting lifetime achievement awards. Seems to stay pretty healthy, too.
All three lived in various places while growing up. While teenagers still attending school, all three (at one time) coincidentally lived in the now-demolished Brewster Projects. Now take a look below at the Detroit homes of the three 'original' Supremes: Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross...
THE DETROIT HOMES OF THE SUPREMES