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In the 1960s the Supremes rivalled the Beatles for worldwide popularity, but their story was turbulent and full of drama.
Florence Ballard was a high school student living in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects in Detroit. Her boyfriend sang in The Primes and that band's enterprising manager recruited Ballard to form female counterpart The Primettes. Ballard asked best friend Mary Wilson, who asked schoolmate Diane Ross. Alongside Betty McGlown, The Primettes were born.
The girls quickly gained a loyal fan following in the sock clubs of Detroit, but their eyes were fixed on starrier heights. Ross asked old neighbour Smokey Robinson to set up an audition with legendary Motown executive Berry Gordy. However, their hopes were dashed when Gordy declared them too young and to come back after graduating high school.
Undeterred, the girls began hanging around Gordy's label Hitsville USA every day after school. When McGlown got engaged and dropped out of the group she was quickly replaced with Barbara Martin. Eventually, in 1961, Gordy signed them to his label, but gave them one condition: change their name from the Primettes.
Diane Ross was firmly against 'the Supremes' as too masculine-sounding, but was overruled by Ballard. When Martin left in 1962 to begin a family, the group continued as a trio. Between 1961 and 1963 they released six singles, all of which charted outside the Top 40, earning them the nickname 'No Hits Supremes'.
In 1963 Diane (who began using Diana in 1965), was made lead singer of the group. In Spring 1964 the girls were offered a song named Where Did Our Love Go. All hated it, but were coerced into recording the tune. In August 1964, whilst the girls were on tour, they were gobsmacked and elated to find Where Did Our Love Go had hit No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
By the end of 1965 the Supremes had achieved international success, with number one records in several different countries, featuring on motion picture soundtracks and even their own brand of bread. Ross' voice was perfect for pop, and their look was classy, designed to appeal to both black and white audiences. They achieved a string of number one hits in the US, and their 1966 album The Supremes A' Go-Go knocked the Beatles' Revolver off the top spot.
In early 1967, Gordy changed the name of the group to The Supremes with Diana Ross, before changing it again to Diana Ross and the Supremes. Gordy maintained the name change was financial: bookers paid for two acts rather than one. However, it created tensions between founding member Ballard (below slide) and Ross (on top of slide). Ballard felt sidelined and began to drink heavily and gained weight, so that she no longer fit into her stage outfits.
The band (pictured here meeting Princess Anne) began to disintegrate, despite two new number ones. Ballard began to arrive at shows too drunk to perform, or simply wouldn't show up at all. Gordy started to filter in replacements for Ballard, but asked her to quit of her own accord. Despite Ballard making an effort to sober up and slim down, she discovered a fourth member was being trained to replace her. Ballard got so drunk she flashed her stomach on stage and shocked the world.
The Supremes' hits began running out with changes in the group and declining sales signifying changes in the record industry. Gospel-based soul singers like Aretha Franklin had began to dwarf the Supremes' sweet pop sound. In 1969, Diana Ross' solo career was announced and Diana Ross and the Supremes gave their last performance in 1970. Although the band continued without Ross, with mixed success, until 1977, they never revisited their 1960s heights.
With combined record sales (Supremes and solo) of 100 million, and over 70 hit singles, Diana Ross is one of the most successful recording artists in the world. "Success depends on trying hard enough," she said in April 1971 when this picture was taken at her Hollywood home, before the sweeping vista of Los Angeles spread out in the sun.