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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard

1 rating: 2.0
2008 nonfiction book by Peter Benjaminson

The Supremes were the most successful female vocal group in history. Of the three original members--Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard—two told their life stories in bestselling books. Only Florence Ballard, the spunky teenager who founded … see full wiki

Author: Peter Benjaminson
Genre: Entertainment, Soul
Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books
Date Published: April 1, 2008
1 review about The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl...

The story of Flo Ballard will break your heart.

  • Oct 16, 2009
  • by
It is a story that is all too familiar to those who have studied the early history of rock and roll.  Greedy record label owners and executives would conspire to cheat artists out of the royalties they were entitled to.  Not surprisingly,  during this period many black artists were victimized by this practice at labels like Herman Lubinsky's Savoy records in New Jersey and Syd Nathan's King records in Cincinnati.  In the late 1950's, Berry Gordy Jr. had been bouncing around the record business trying to find his niche.  Although he had written a couple of hits for Jackie Wilson Gordy quickly figured out  that songwriting was really not all that lucrative.  Berry Gordy Jr. had much bigger ambitions.  He looked at the musical landscape in America and determined that there was a boatload of money to be made marketing black music to affluent white teenagers.  And so with several hundred dollars of borrowed money Gordy founded Motown Records in Detroit. The year was 1960. He dubbed his modest recording studios in an old house in the Detroit suburbs "Hitsville, USA".  Now there was a ton of talent in Detroit in those days and Berry Gordy was very adroit at recognizing it and getting these artists to sign with Motown.  Before long the fledgling label had inked the likes of The Temptations, The Miracles and Mary Wells. Soon Motown records was off and running and making a huge impact on the Billboard Hot 100. It seems that every group in the city wanted to sign with Motown. Among them was a talented teenaged quartet that called themselves The Primettes. The group consisted of Betty McGlown, Mary Wilson, Diane Ross and the founder of the group Florence Ballard. It was this group that was destined to become The Supremes. In "The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard" author Peter Benjaminson chronicles the history of one of the world's most successful vocal groups.  In this book readers will discover the tragic story of how over time Florence Ballard became marginalized and was eventually dismissed from the group that she had formed.  It is truly a heartbreaking story.

Now unlike many of the other aforementioned acts at Motown the path to stardom for The Primettes proved to be rather long and arduous.  Everyone assumed that the highly talented and vivacious Flo would be the lead singer of the group, but Diane (later Diana) Ross had the same aspirations.  Most objective observers agreed that Flo was by far the more talented vocalist.  The girls honed their skills in local nightclubs while awaiting the opportunity to record and would ultimately became a trio and at Flo's suggestion change their name to The Supremes.  When their chance to record finally presented itself the results were less than spectacular.  After several failed attempts the group finally scored their first hit record in 1963 with "When The Lovelight Starts Shining In His Eyes". Unfortunately for Florence Ballard it was Diana Ross singing lead on their first hit.  Over the years Diana had caught the attention of Berry Gordy and now Gordy seemed committed do everything in his power to make sure that Diana Ross would sing lead on just about every important Supremes recording.  Understandably, Florence Ballard was very unhappy with the fact that she seemed to be losing control over the group that she had founded.  In the summer of 1964 The Supremes caught fire with a tune called "Where Did Our Love Go" that zoomed all the way to the top of the charts. Over the next three years the trio would find themselves at the top of the Billboard charts 9 more times.  It was a remarkable achievement!  It seemed to everyone that The Supremes were on top of the world but trouble was lurking in the background.  For one thing, the contract that the girls had signed with Motown was extremely stingy and forced the girls to pay virtually all of the expenses the group incurred out of their rather meager royalties.  It seems that Berry Gordy had taken a page out of the Lubinsky/Nathan playbook and was much more concerned with his own interests than that of the group.  In addition, for a variety of reasons the girls were increasingly at each other's throats. 
Flo Ballard was particularly unhappy because it was clear to her that her role in the group had been diminished by Berry Gordy and that her ability to continue in the group was being threatened. Finally in 1967 things came to a head and Florence Ballard was fired from The Supremes. Amazingly, neither Diana Ross nor Mary Wilson nor anyone else at Motown uttered a single word of protest.

Flo's life after The Supremes is the primary focus of "The Lost Supreme"Peter Benjaminson became interested in Flo's plight and conducted extensive interviews with her in 1975.  What he found what a lady whose spirit had been completely broken.  By this time Flo had lost her home, her car and she was languishing on welfare.  Over the years her husband Tommy Chapman would leave her several times.  In the last years of her life Flo spent most of her time tending to her three young daughters and rarely went out.  Florence Ballard felt that she had been betrayed by just about everyone in her life.  She remained bitter about her experiences at Motown and blamed her attorney Leonard Baun for absconding with most of her monies from her time with The Supremes. Unfortunately, the story that unfolds in "The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard" is hardly an isolated incident.  The history of rock and roll is replete with stories quite similar to the story of Florence Ballard. I found Peter Benjaminson's account of her life to be very well written and quite compelling indeed.      Recommended.
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