On this Day:
In 1964, The Supremes 1st appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, singing “Come See About Me”.
The Supremes were an American female singing group and a premier act of Motown Records during the 1960s. Founded as The Primettes in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959, the Supremes were the most commercially successful of Motown’s acts and the most successful American vocal group, with 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Most of these hits were written and produced by Motown’s main songwriting and production team, Holland–Dozier–Holland. At their peak in the mid-1960s, the Supremes rivalled the Beatles in worldwide popularity, and it is said that their breakthrough made it possible for future African American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success. Billboard ranked The Supremes as the 16th greatest Hot 100 artist of all time.
Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, and Betty McGlown, the original group, were all from the Brewster-Douglass public housing project in Detroit. They formed the Primettes as the sister act to the Primes (with Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who went on to form the Temptations). Barbara Martin replaced McGlown in 1960, and the group signed with Motown the following year as The Supremes. Martin left the act in early 1962, and Ross, Ballard, and Wilson carried on as a trio.
During the mid-1960s, the Supremes achieved mainstream success with Ross as lead singer and Holland-Dozier-Holland as its songwriting and production team. In 1967, Motown president Berry Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross & the Supremes, and replaced Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. In 1970, Ross left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell and the group reverted to being The Supremes again. During the mid-1970s, the lineup changed with Lynda Laurence, Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene joining until, after 18 years, the group disbanded in 1977.
In Detroit in 1958, Florence Ballard, a junior high school student living in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, met Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who were two members of a Detroit singing group known as the Primes. Ballard sang, as did Paul Williams’ girlfriend Betty McGlown, so Milton Jenkins, the Primes’s manager, decided to create a sister group to be called the Primettes. Ballard recruited her best friend Mary Wilson, and then Paul Williams recruited Diana Ross. Mentored and funded by Jenkins, the Primettes began by performing hit songs of artists such as Ray Charles and the Drifters at sock hops, social clubs and talent shows around the Detroit area. Receiving additional guidance from group friend and established songwriter Jesse Greer, the quartet quickly earned a local fan following. The girls crafted an age-appropriate style that was inspired by the collegiate dress of popular doo-wop group Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. For the most part, Ballard, Ross and Wilson performed equal leads on songs. Within a few months, guitarist Marvin Tarplin was added to the Primettes’ lineup— a move that helped distinguish the group from Detroit’s many other aspiring acts by allowing the girls to sing live instead of lip-synching.
After winning the Windsor–Detroit International Freedom Festival on July 4, 1960, the Primettes’ sights were set on making a record. In hopes of getting the group signed to the local upstart Motown label, in 1960 Ross asked an old neighbor, Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson, to help the group land an audition for Motown executive Berry Gordy, who had already proven himself a capable songwriter. Robinson liked “the girls” (as they were then known around Motown) and agreed to help, but he liked their guitarist even more; with the Primettes’ permission he hired Tarplin, who became the guitarist for the Miracles. Robinson arranged for the Primettes to audition a cappella for Gordy—but Gordy, feeling the girls too young and inexperienced to be recording artists, encouraged them to return when they had graduated from high school. Undaunted, later that year the Primettes recorded a single for Lu Pine Records, a label created just for them, titled “Tears of Sorrow”, which was backed with “Pretty Baby”. The single failed to find an audience, however. Shortly thereafter, McGlown became engaged and left the group. Local girl Barbara Martin was McGlown’s prompt replacement.
Determined to leave an impression on Gordy and join the stable of rising Motown stars, the Primettes frequented his Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio. Eventually, they convinced Gordy to allow them to contribute hand claps and background vocals for the songs of other Motown artists including Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. In January 1961, Gordy finally relented and agreed to sign the girls to his label – but under the condition that they change the name of their group. The Primes had by this time combined with Otis Williams & the Distants and would soon sign to Motown as the Temptations. Gordy gave Ballard a list of names to choose from that included suggestions such as “the Darleens”, “the Sweet Ps”, “the Melodees”, “the Royaltones” and “the Jewelettes”. Ballard chose “the Supremes”. In the spring of 1962, Martin left the group to start a family. Thus, the newly named Supremes continued as a trio.
Between 1961 and 1963, the Supremes released six singles, starting with “I Want a Guy” and “Buttered Popcorn” on Motown subsidiary label Tamla. However, none of those first six singles charted in the Top 40 positions of the Billboard Hot 100. Jokingly referred to as the “no-hit Supremes” around Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. offices, the group attempted to compensate for their lack of hits by taking on any work available at the studio, including providing hand claps and singing backup for Motown artists such as Marvin Gaye and the Temptations. During these years, all three members took turns singing lead: Wilson favored soft ballads, Ballard favored soulful, hard-driving songs, and Ross favored mainstream pop songs. Most of their early material was written and produced by Berry Gordy or Smokey Robinson. In December 1963, the single “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” peaked at number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Lovelight” was the first of many Supremes songs written by the Motown songwriting and production team known as Holland–Dozier–Holland. In late 1963, Berry Gordy chose Diane Ross — who began going by “Diana” in 1965—as the official lead singer of the group. Ballard and Wilson were periodically given solos on Supremes albums, and Ballard continued to sing her solo number, “People”, in concert for the next two years.
In the spring of 1964, the Supremes recorded the single “Where Did Our Love Go”. The song was originally intended by Holland-Dozier-Holland for the Marvelettes, who rejected it. Although the Supremes disliked the song, the producers coerced them into recording it. In August 1964, while the Supremes toured as part of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, “Where Did Our Love Go” reached number one on the US pop charts, much to the surprise and delight of the group. It was also their first song to appear on the UK singles chart, where it reached number three.
“Where Did Our Love Go” was followed by four consecutive US number-one hits: “Baby Love” (which was also a number-one hit in the UK), “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again”. “Baby Love” was nominated for the 1965 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.
The Supremes deliberately embraced a more glamorous image than previous black performers. Much of this was accomplished at the behest of Motown chief Berry Gordy and Maxine Powell, who ran Motown’s in-house finishing school and Artist Development department. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Ross sang in a thin, calm voice, and her vocal styling was matched by having all three women embellish their femininity instead of imitate the qualities of male groups. Eschewing plain appearances and basic dance routines, the Supremes appeared onstage in detailed make-up and high-fashion gowns and wigs, and performed graceful choreography created by Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins. Powell told the group to “be prepared to perform before kings and queens.” Gordy wanted the Supremes, like all of his performers, to be equally appealing to black and white audiences.
Public magazines such as Time and The Detroit News commented on the Supremes’ polished presentation. In a May 1965 profile of rock music, Time called the Supremes “the reigning female rock ‘n’ roll group” and said that Ross “is greatly envied for the torchy, come-hither purr in her voice.” Arnold S. Hirsch of The Detroit News said about the Supremes: “they don’t scream or wail incoherently. An adult can understand nine out of every 10 words they sing. And, most astounding, melody can be clearly detected in every song.” Encyclopedia Britannica commented that the Supremes’ hit singles “sounded modern, upwardly mobile, and stylishly sensual in a way that appealed equally to adults and teens of all persuasions.”
By 1965, the Supremes were international stars. They toured the world, becoming almost as popular abroad as they were in the US. Almost immediately after their initial number-one hits, they recorded songs for motion picture soundtracks, appeared in the 1965 film Beach Ball, and endorsed dozens of products, at one point having their own brand of bread. By the end of 1966, their number-one hits included “I Hear a Symphony”, “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. That year the group also released The Supremes A’ Go-Go, which on October 22 became the first album by an all-female group to reach number one on the US Billboard 200, knocking the Beatles’ Revolver out of the top spot. Because the Supremes were popular with white audiences as well as with black ones, Gordy had the group perform at renowned supper clubs such as the Copacabana in New York. Broadway and pop standards were incorporated into their repertoire alongside their own hit songs. As a result, the Supremes became one of the first black musical acts to achieve complete and sustained crossover success. Black rock and roll musicians of the 1950s had seen many of their original hit tunes covered by white musicians, with these covers usually achieving more fame and sales success than the originals. The Supremes’ success, however, counteracted this trend. Featuring three group members who were marketed for their individual personalities (a move unprecedented at the time) and Diana Ross’s pop-friendly voice, the Supremes broke down racial barriers with rock and roll songs underpinned by R&B stylings. The group became extremely popular both domestically and abroad, becoming one of the first black musical acts to appear 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. In 2003, Fred Bronson wrote that in 1959, when the Supremes formed as the Primettes, “no one could have predicted they would become the most successful American singing group of all time.” (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What did the panicky Alto say when she was auditioning to be part of The Supremes? Help! I am in Treble!!!
Second, a Song:
“Come See About Me” is a 1964 song recorded by the Supremes for the Motown label.
The song became third of five consecutively released Supremes songs to top the Billboard pop singles chart in the United States (the others are “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again”). It topped the chart twice, non-consecutively, being toppled by and later replacing the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” in December 1964 and January 1965. The BBC ranked “Come See About Me” at number 94 on The Top 100 Digital Motown Chart, which ranks Motown releases by their all time UK downloads and streams.
Written and produced by Motown’s main production team Holland–Dozier–Holland, it was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for two separate weeks: December 13, 1964, to December 18, 1964, and January 10, 1965, to January 16, 1965, and reached the number three position on the soul chart. Billboard said that the song has a “pronounced Detroit beat, steady and exacting” and that the “Gals weave silky and controlled vocal through beat.”
The Supremes, whilst being the first to record the song, were not the first to issue it as a single. That distinction fell to Nella Dodds, and her version started selling, climbing to #74 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, but Motown Records quickly released the Supremes’ version as a single, which killed sales of Nella Dodds’ version. The group made their first of 17 appearances live on the popular CBS variety program The Ed Sullivan Show performing this single on Sunday, December 27, 1964.
The group also recorded a German version of the song, entitled “Johnny und Joe”. (per Wikipedia).
Here are The Supremes performing “Come See About Me” on the Ed Sullivan Show from 1964. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“If I have someone who believes in me, I can move mountains.” – Diana Ross
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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