The Supremes

The Supremes were an American soul-pop trio from Detroit, formed in 1961. Their classic lineup featured singers Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and frontwoman Diana Ross, who all grew up on the city’s east side.

Signed to Motown, The Supremes were part of that label’s classic roster of chart-topping sixties artists, along with the Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Martha & the Vandellas, Little Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Mary Wilson.

Between 1964 and 1967, they scored ten No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Where Did Our Love Go?,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and “The Happening,” all written by the team of Holland–Dozier–Holland.

After Ballard’s departure, the group continued with singer Cindy Birdsong and scored Top 2 hits with “Reflections,” “Love Child,” and the Temptations duet “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” By this time, they were billed as Diana Ross & the Supremes. In January 1970, Ross bowed out for a solo career on the heels of their final No. 1, the symbolic “Someday We’ll Be Together.”

Wilson and Birdsong continued The Supremes with Jean Terrell and charted in 1970–71 with “Stoned Love” and “Nathan Jones.” After teaming with the Four Tops for the 1971 album Dynamite, they released two albums in 1972: one under the guidance of Smokey Robinson (Floy Joy) and one with writer–arranger Jimmy Webb.

After a brief pause in Supremes activity, singer Scherrie Payne replaced Terrell for their 1975 self-titled album. With a newly disco-fied sound, the lineup of Wilson, Payne, and newcomer Susaye Greene released two albums in 1976: High Energy and Mary, Scherrie & Susaye. The Supremes folded in 1977.

Members: Mary Wilson (vocals), Diana Ross (vocals, 1961-70), Florence Ballard (vocals, 1961-67), Barbara Martin (vocals, 1961-62), Cindy Birdsong (vocals, 1967-72, 1974-76), Jean Terrell (vocals, 1970-73), Lynda Laurence (vocals, 1972-73), Scherrie Payne (vocals, 1974-77), Susaye Greene (vocals, 1976-77)

The Supremes evolved from The Primettes, a Detroit girl group formed as a female counterpart to The Primes, a male doo-wop combo that eventually morphed into The Temptations.

In 1958, Primes singer Paul Williams met teenager Florence Ballard (1943–1976), an aspiring singer. Since his girlfriend, Betty McGlown, also wished to sing, Primes manager Milton Jenkins decided to form a female version of The Primes with a feminine variation of the same name. Ballard informed her best friend, Mary Wilson (1944–2021), who in turn told her classmate, Diana Ross (b. 1944).

Under Jenkins’ mentorship, The Primettes hit the local sock-hop circuit with a setlist comprised of Drifters and Ray Charles covers. For their backing band, they hired budding guitarist Marvin Tarplin.

Eager to record, Ross approached her former neighbor, Smokey Robinson of Tamla recording artists The Miracles. Impressed with their guitarist, Robinson hired Tarplin for his group. He also arranged to have The Primettes audition a cappella for Motown executive Berry Gordy. Feeling they were too young, Gordy told them to finish high school first. In the meantime, they cut a 1960 single for local-press Lu Pine Productions: the Ross-sung “Tears of Sorrow” (b/w the Wilson-sung “Pretty Baby”). McGlown, now engaged, cleared way for aspiring singer Barbara Martin.

In a second bid for Gordy’s attention, The Primettes started making daily after-school visits to Motown’s headquarters, Hitsville USA. Soon enough, he let them add handclaps and backing vocals on recordings by some of the label’s rising stars, including Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye. The efforts finally paid off in January 1961 when Gordy signed them to Motown. Disliking the name Primettes, he handed Wilson a list of new possible names, from which she chose The Supremes.

In 1961, The Supremes released their first two singles on Motown’s Tamla division. Their first, the stop/start girl-group number “I Want a Guy,” was written by Holland–Dozier–Gorman, the team comprised of Motown staff writers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Freddie Gorman (who would later part from the team and form The Originals). Ross sang lead on that and the b-side, the Gordy-penned doo-wop ballad “Never Again.” It was followed by the perky Gordy-written novelty “Buttered Popcorn,” backed with the Robinson-penned ballad “Who’s Loving You,” both sung by Ballard. These and subsequent singles feature instrumental backing by Hitsville houseband The Funk Brothers.

In May 1962, The Supremes made their Hot 100 debut (No. 95) with their third single, the Robinson-penned ballad “Your Heart Belongs to Me.” Based largely in Cma7 (a common chord in subsequent Supremes hits), the song hears Ross employ wavering, elongated vowels in a soft, emotive tone; hallmarks of what would become her trademark singing style. She also sings the peppy b-side, “He’s Seventeen,” establishing her role as the group’s lead vocalist. Just after this single’s release, Martin left to start a family, trimming The Supremes to the classic trio of Ballard, Ross, and Wilson.


  • Meet the Supremes (1962)
  • Where Did Our Love Go (1964)
  • A Bit of Liverpool (1964)
  • The Supremes Sing Country Western & Pop (1965)
  • We Remember Sam Cooke (1965)
  • More Hits by The Supremes (1965)
  • Merry Christmas (1965)
  • I Hear a Symphony (1966)
  • The Supremes A’ Go-Go (1966)
  • The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland (1967)
  • The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart (1967)
  • Reflections (1968 • Diana Ross and The Supremes)
  • Diana Ross & the Supremes Sing and Perform “Funny Girl” (1968 • Diana Ross & The Supremes)
  • Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations (1968 • Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations)
  • Love Child (1968 • Diana Ross and The Supremes)
  • Let the Sunshine In (1969 • Diana Ross & The Supremes)
  • Together (1969 • Diana Ross & The Supremes With The Temptations)
  • Cream of the Crop (1969 • Diana Ross & The Supremes)
  • Right On (1970)
  • The Magnificent 7 (1970 • The Supremes & The Four Tops)
  • New Ways But Love Stays (1970)
  • The Return of the Magnificent Seven (1971 • The Supremes & The Four Tops)
  • Touch (1971)
  • Dynamite (1971 • The Supremes & The Four Tops)
  • Floy Joy (1972)
  • The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb (1972)
  • The Supremes (1975)
  • High Energy (1976)
  • Mary, Scherrie & Susaye (1976)


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