The Supremes

Made up of three young women from Detroit's Brewster-Douglass housing project, the Supremes went on to become the most commercially successful act of Motown Records' 1960s heyday — and by many measures the most successful American recording act of that decade. As such, they exemplified Motown founder Berry Gordy’s crossover-minded melding of R&B and Pop.

The three Supremes — Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson — were still teenagers when they won a deal with Motown, but they released half a dozen unsuccessful singles with the label before 1963's "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" finally put them on the charts. With help from the songwriting/production trio of Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, and Brian Holland, the Supremes scored a prodigious run of hits through the remainder of the decade, including "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Back in My Arms Again, "Nothing But Heartaches," "I Hear a Symphony," "My World Is Empty Without You," "You Can't Hurry Love," "You Keep Me Hangin' On," "The Happening," "Reflections," and "In and Out of Love.” The Supremes' ubiquity on the radio was matched by their visibility on the era's prime-time TV variety shows, where the trio's glamorous image and smooth choreography won them a level of exposure that was still rare for African-American acts at the time.

Despite the Supremes' success, Ballard, the group's founder and original leader, grew dissatisfied with Ross' increasing dominance of the group and Gordy's relentless promotion of the ambitious Ross. Ballard acrimoniously exited the group in mid-1967 and launched a solo career, but none of her releases caught on with the public and she died in poverty a decade later.  Meanwhile, the Supremes continued with replacement Cindy Birdsong.  By then, the act was billed as Diana Ross and the Supremes, tipping Gordy's plan to spin Ross off into a solo career. Many later Supremes releases (including "Love Child" and "Someday We'll Be Together") in fact had Ross accompanied by anonymous studio singers rather than the actual Supremes. 

Ross' long-planned launch as a solo star came at the beginning of 1970 and yielded immediate commercial results with the hits "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)."  The post-Ross Supremes, with new lead Jean Terrell, scored a few more hits (e.g. "Stoned Love," "Nathan Jones," and "Up the Ladder to the Roof") before disbanding in 1977. 

In 2000, Ross attempted to stage a high-profile Supremes "reunion" tour. But the ongoing ill will between Ross and her former partners resulted in the singer touring with late-70s Supremes Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence, despite the fact that none of the three singers had been members of the group at the same time. The tour was cancelled after a handful of dates.