Tag Archives: Mary Wilson

Happy Birthday Flo: The Original Dream Girl

22Remembering Florence Ballard on the day of her birth! I thought about titling this piece “Supremely Floriffic” because she was the founding member of the original and most popular girl group The Supremes. Yet, history records her as “The Forgotten Supreme”.

Florence, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson grew up in the now demolished Brewster Projects of Detroit. To make a fascinating story short, after begging Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for work, they were hired to sing. They recorded a string of hits for Motown, which still stand as a museum on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Florence Ballard had a very soulful voice that added great harmony to the group.

Few Motown acts could be put into the same caliber as The Supremes. Some say the Beatles were the greatest group of that era, but I differ in that because almost any Motown act would amply fit in that category, if it were not for racism. You see most black groups of that era were restricted by their color to perform on what was known as the “Chitlin Circuit”. Until Motown, the work of black artists fell into a category called “Race Music”.

Regardless of the real reason or the reason you might believe for her dismissal. In 1967, Ballard was removed from the Supremes lineup and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong. Flo signed away, all her rights to “The Supremes”, for $139.804 in 1968, in a hush/hush meeting in the Northland Inn. After leaving the group, she signed with ABC Records in 1968 forging on an unsuccessful solo career.

It is presumed the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls that chronicles a fictional group called “The Dreams” had a number of plot components that paralleled events in the Supremes’ career. The central character of Effie White, like Florence Ballard, is criticized for being overweight, and is fired from the group.

The film version of Dreamgirls released in 2006 features more overt references to Ballard’s life and the Supremes’ story, including gowns and album covers that are direct copies of Supremes originals. Jennifer Hudson won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie White. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Hudson dedicated her win to Florence Ballard.

As a member, Ballard sang on sixteen top forty singles with the group, including ten number-one hits. After being dropped from the label, Ballard struggled with many of life’s problems for a period of three years. Ballard was making an attempt for a musical comeback when she died of cardiac in February of 1976 at the age of 32. Ballard’s death was considered by one critic as “one of music’s greatest tragedies”. Ballard was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes in 1988.

On Friday, Feb 27th, almost 5000 people lined the street in front of the New Bethel Baptist Church to say goodbye to her. Diana Ross arrived and was booed by the crowd. The Reverend C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s dad) presided over the service. Members of the Four Tops, Marvin Johnson and Thearon Hill served as pallbearers and Stevie Wonder was an honorary one.

In the spirit of Black History I will not dishonor Flo’s memory with innuendo or any of the rumors that have circulated during and since her death. However, I will say this, not unlike many artists who live a soap-opera type career. She as well as many of Motown’s successful group lends credence to the old belief that great art comes from troubled lives. But even in the face of hardship their legend remains for all of eternity.Sleep well and rest in peace “Dream Girl”. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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A Salute To Motown Records

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We are the inventors and creators of the sounds that changed world cultures. If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago, it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World, we brought the drum that dictated the rhythms souls. It is a fact that Black people are responsible for the great music known to the world as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear speaks directly to our glorious past.

During the despicable era’s of slavery and segregation, prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a people, and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, it was not unlike the days when they called our music “race music” and radio would not play it for white audiences; let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV.

This brings me to the historic, game-changing, record label Motown and its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”. For many who don’t know or have forgotten, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on white radio. The music was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1959 when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown Records, few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American to feature black artists, and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, which was a style of soul music with a distinct influence. From its Hitsville U.S. housed in a tiny building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters producing the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

The music produced by Motown made a nation of people living in this nation without a nationality proud with its awe-inspiring run of hits that spoke to the essence of our souls.

It was from that tiny little basement studio where the world was introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band; just to name a few of the artists that touched our hearts making us proud. Oh, even Dr. Martin Luther King recorded and album at Motown!

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that in order to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart, as I am sure with you and millions around the world. So again I say, thank you, Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends that are no longer able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make heaven more glorious than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Peace, Love, and Soul

2I wonder how many people realize how much Soul Train meant to our community and what it did for the African American pride. Let’s remember the show appeared less than a decade after society barred “collared music” from being heard on must media through a segregated program called “Race Music”.

So much of what is written on the pages of time is skewed or simply altered to fit His-Story. I have said many times “our story is the greatest story ever told”. We, as a people, have had the fortitude to make something out of nothing. Yes, and I know that is an understatement – but it is true. Through this writing, I want to pay homage to Don Cornelius who made something possible at a time when it was impossible.

I left for Vietnam in 1969. At that time, representation on television as it related to African American’s was basically nonexistent. Of course, there was the baboonery and unrealistic representations of who they wanted us to be or appear to the world. When I returned, a year and a half later, changed as a young man as well as the world I left behind. Thanks in large part to Mr. Soul Train. From the time of my return until the show ended, I devoted nearly every Saturday afternoon to viewing “Soul Train”.

The host of this groundbreaking show was a tall always stylishly dress host in the latest fashion; at least for the time. That man was Don Cornelius an enigmatic mélange of ambition, vision and begrudging affection, who like most old school show biz impresarios. African American’s knew that his rival American Bandstand did very little for the artist or our community at that time. Mr. Cornelius had the vision to create the hippest trip on television and dare I say in America.

Sadly the Soul Train creator ended his own life on February 1, 2012 with a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head that I would reverberated around the world. Mr. Soul Train was not just a great American story of triumph over travail; he was a hallowed symbol to the African American community.

He used his platform to change the world through its outstanding reflections of our pride and talent. The news of his suicide on the first day of Black History Month was a jarring way to enter a month-long celebration of the contributions of African Americas to the vitality and veracity of this nation and the world.

His mission was to shine a light, a bright light, on the African American culture through great music and to showcase the performers who in many cases had no other national platform. This included the known, unknown, and obscure literally making stars of them overnight. Soul Train was the powerful vehicle, and it became the longest running syndicated show on television, a black history fact to remember.

Watching Soul Train made you instantly cool, no matter if you were black, white or otherwise. Where else could you learn the latest dances, hippest fashions, and the next best way to rock that Afro and what products you had to have to keep it looking good? The legendary Soul Train Line was essential viewing. Can you remember those parties you attend on Saturday night’s after watching the show where you used the moves to do your own Soul Train line? It could be said that it raised your “Cool IQ”. Soul Train was a window into a world rarely seen by the world.

Mr. Cornelius stepped down as the host of Soul Train in 1993, but the show continued with a series of new hosts who continued his vision, inculcating a new generation of Soul Train devotees. Soul Train remained the hippest trip in American until it went off the air in 2006.

When Mr. Cornelius signed off on February 1, 2012, it was a tragic end to a long running iconic figure in American music. His contributions will never be forgotten or matched and his legacy will last – I wish him love, peace and soul. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


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