By Bill Dudley/94.7 The WAVE
All of the talented Motown acts of the 1960s captured the interest of young America, but none more than three teenage girls known as The Supremes.
Starting out as a four girl act known as The Primettes several years earlier, it seemingly took forever for The Supremes to match the success of Motown’s other big acts like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & Miracles, and Mary Wells.
But when they hit, they hit BIG!
It was 50 years ago that Diana Ross, Mary Wilson & Florence Ballard started racking up a string of songs that hit the top of the charts. They had no less than 12 songs that went to #1, including five in a row starting with “Where Did Our Love Go?” in 1964, and culminating with the (not so) prophetic “Someday We’ll Be Together” in 1970.
That was the year Diana Ross went solo to amass another stellar 15 year run of Top 10 singles and albums. I was still a kid when Diana left The Supremes, and many fans (including me), never forgave her for it. We were lead to believe that “someday,” they would actually be together again, but that never happened.
Founding member Mary Wilson did keep some semblance of The Supremes together for another seven years. Jean Terrell replaced Diana and had several great achievements as lead vocalist including “Stoned Love” and “Nathan Jones,” but the hits stopped coming in 1976.
Although The Supremes were not the first girl group of the Rock era, they were by far the most influential in music and American culture. Broadway history was made in 1981 “Dream Girls,” originally a book with a loosely based story on Effie (based on Flo), leaving the group, and the heartbreak that followed for the remaining members and the fans alike.
The Broadway “Dream Girls” made the career of Jennifer Holiday, as the 2006 film did for Jennifer Hudson who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Effie (based on Flo). Flo was bounced from The Supremes at the height of their popularity in 1967, and replaced by another fine singer Cindy Birdsong.
I met Mary Wilson in the 1980s and she told me horrible stories about the group that became “Diana Ross and the Supremes,” always referring to Diana as “Diane.”
The stories upset me so much that I actually had nightmares about it. Hopes were high around 12 years ago that there would be a Supremes reunion tour with Diana. I wanted to attend but it fell apart quickly because Mary & Cindy were not to be a part of it. Without Mary and Cindy, they really weren’t The Supremes. Sadly, Flo passed away in 1976. She was flat broke.
So, I swallowed my long resentment for Diana, whether warranted or not, and went to see her show Wednesday night in Long Beach.
I had never seen her before. The show started precisely at 8:00, as she hit the stage in a beautiful turquoise sequined outfit, which was to change colors at least five times as the night went on.
Other than her appropriate “I’m Coming Out” which was the first song, it was all Supremes for the first 30 minutes, performed pretty much in chronological order: “Where Did Our Love Go” into “Baby Love,” “Stop In The Name Of Love,” “Love Child,” etc.
Diana also covered two huge hits that were not her own, including “More Today Than Yesterday”and “I Will Survive.”
It was then I realized that Diana indeed WAS a survivor. She has been on the charts since I was a little kid. Her film roles in “Lady Sings The Blues” (AKA: the Billie Holiday Story), “Mahogany” and “The Wiz” were all well represented at this show.
“Upside Down,” “Love Hangover” and her signature solo “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” brought the house down. This was a first class show, completely sold out at a beautiful venue.
Unlike some artists who have been performing since the 1960s, she did not walk through the hits. Diana sold the show by convincing all of us that she really respected the songs that made her a household name, especially the Motown hits.
Backed by a nine piece band including sax, trombone, trumpet, guitar, two drummers and four excellent backup singers, I must say I loved it!
But, as I was walking out of the theater, I realized she did not do “Someday We’ll Be Together.”
Ironically, Mary Wilson said recently that she and Diane (as she still refers to her) “embraced” last year at the Broadway opening of ‘Motown: The Musical,’ along with Motown founder Berry Gordy.
I’ve always felt that Mary looked at the 1970 breakup as losing her career, and her sister.
When asked if she would welcome a REAL Supremes reunion Mary said, “I’d be happy… if I was wanted and paid well…I’d love it. It would be the culmination of that dream.”
Thus I am still hoping that ‘Someday, (they actually will) Be Together.’