Nicole Garrett Smeltekop, Albion College Archives and Special CollectionsLook03
This photo was taken at the Roostertail in Detroit in 1966.
As the most successful female singing group of all time, the Supremes are well known – not only for their music, but also their rise to stardom. Starting out in “the Projects” of Detroit, the group rose to become the most popular female group of the 1960s. The 2006 film Dreamgirls, based loosely on their story, shows that Americans’ fascination with this successful African American singing trio has not waned.
The Supremes started as a quartet called “The Primettes” in 1959. After hearing the girls sing, the manager of the locally popular male group, “The Primes” (the future Temptations) decided to start a sister group. They were signed to Motown records in 1961. Soon after, the fourth member left the group, leaving the trio of Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, and Mary Wilson. In their negotiations with Berry Gordy, manager of Motown Records, they changed their name to “The Supremes.” Gordy decided to make Diana Ross the sole lead singer, a role the three had previously shared.
From “No Hits” to Hitmakers
Between 1961 and 1963, the group released eight singles, none of which reached the Top Forty. Because of this, they got the nickname “no hit Supremes.” However, in early 1964, the group broke into the Top Forty with their song, “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes.” This reached #23 on the charts. In the spring of 1964, the group released their first #1 hit, “Where Did Our Love Go?” Their next five singles all reached #1, making them the only American group to ever have five consecutive #1 hits.
Diana Ross and the Supremes
In 1967, the group officially changed its name to “Diana Ross and The Supremes.” Ballard had always resented Ross’ position as the only lead singer and quit when the new name was announced. Cindy Birdsong replaced her and the group continued making chart-topping hits. Between 1964 and 1969, the Supremes charted twelve #1’s and reached the top ten with their six other singles. Diana Ross left the Supremes in 1969 to launch her successful solo career. The group reached the top ten two more times without Ross and continued performing until their farewell concert in 1977.
The Supremes’ success paved the way for other African American musicians. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and three of their songs were named to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and 2001.