Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Supremes, The

The Supremes was the name of the famous American, all-female, singing group and the leading act of Motown Records during the 1960s. Founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1959 as The Primettes, the group was originally conceived as a sister act to The Primes, with Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. The original members of The Primettes, all of whom were from the Brewster-Douglass public housing project in Detroit, were Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, and Betty McGlown. In 1960 McGlown was replaced by Barbara Martin, and the group signed with Motown in 1961 as The Supremes. Martin left the group in early 1962, and Ballard, Wilson, and Ross carried The Supremes forward as the soon-to-be-famous trio.

Singing a range of musical styles from doo-wop, pop, and soul, to Broadway show tunes, psychedelic soul, and disco, The Supremes achieved mainstream success during the mid-1960s with Diana Ross as the lead singer. For a brief period from 1967 to 1970, the group was renamed Diana Ross & the Supremes until Ross left the group to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell. The lineup of The Supremes changed frequently after 1972, and the group eventually disbanded in 1977 after an 18-year run.

The Supremes were the first black female performers of their generation to embrace a more feminine image, appearing on stage in detailed makeup and high-fashion gowns and wigs. They were extremely popular both domestically and abroad, appearing regularly on television programs such as Hullabaloo, The Hollywood Palace, The Della Reese Show, and most notably, The Ed Sullivan Show, on which they made 17 appearances. As the most commercially successful of the Motown acts and America’s most successful vocal group to date, The Supremes achieved 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 list, and their worldwide popularity almost matched that of The Beatles at their peak in the mid-1960s. Ultimately, the accomplishments of The Supremes helped to pave the way for future African American musicians to find mainstream success.

Edited by Julia Teran

 


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