In 1959, an R&B female vocal group from Detroit got together and called themselves The Primettes. The group consisted of lead singer Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Barbara Martin.
They signed with the little known LuPine label in 1960. That same year, The Primettes signed with Motown’s Tamla label and a year later, in 1961, The Primettes became known as The Supremes. Barbara Martin left soon thereafter, making the group a trio.
For three years, The Supremes worked as backing vocalists for other Motown artists. They can be heard backing Marvin Gaye on his 1963 hit, “Can I Get A Witness?”
Late in 1963, The Supremes cracked the Billboard Top 40 charts for the first time with “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes.” Five of their next six singles went to number one. In all, they had twelve number one hits.
Although they were riding high on the charts, there was a lot of friction between Diana Ross and Florence Ballard. It all came to a head in 1967, when Motown boss, Berry Gordy, discharged Ballard and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong, who had been with Patti LaBalle’s Bluebelles.
Diana Ross left the group in 1969 and was replaced by Jean Terrell. Ross had an extremely successful solo career, but The Supremes only managed to crack the top ten two more times. Their last charted single was in 1976.
In 1978, Mary Wilson reformed the group as Mary Wilson and The Supremes, but lost the rights to use the name The Supremes, following a tour in England.
Below are The Supremes twenty biggest hits, according to Billboard magazine.
1. Baby Love – 1964
2. Love Child – 1968
3. Where Did Our Love Go – 1964 – Donnie Elbert took this song to #15 on the weekly charts in 1971.
4. Come See About Me – 1964
5. You Can’t Hurry Love – 1966 – In 1983, Phil Collins took a cover version of this song to #10.
6. Stop! In The Name Of Love – 1965
7. I Hear A Symphony – 1966
8. You Keep Me Hangin’ On – 1966 – A psychedelic rock version of this song went to #6, by Vanilla Fudge, in 1968 and, twenty-one years after the original version, Kim Wilde also went to #1 in 1987.
9. Someday, We’ll Be Together – 1969 – The Supremes last #1 song with Diana Ross and a very apropos title as their swan song.
10. Back In My Arms Again – 1965
11. Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone – 1967
12. The Happening – 1967 – From the movie of the same title.
13. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – 1969 – Here the Supremes teamed up with The Temptations, who, ironically, were called The Primes, when they first came to Motown and covered this Madeline Bell tune which went to #26 for her in 1968.
14. Reflections – 1967
15. My World Is Empty Without You – 1966
16. Stoned Love – 1970 – One of two songs for the Supremes that went top ten without Diana Ross on leads.
17. Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart – 1966
18. In And Out Of Love – 1967 – One of 17 top forty songs written by the team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland for the Supremes.
19. Up The Ladder To The Roof – 1970 – The first single for the Supremes after Diana Ross stepped down as lead singer.
20. I’m Livin’ In Shame – 1969
On a sad note, Florence Ballard tried suing Motown over her being fired, but lost the suit. In 1976, after spending some time on welfare and trying to support her three children, Florence Ballard died of cardiac arrest at the age of 32.
The Supremes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.