Tag Archives: Supremes

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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Soul Survivor Dennis Edwards

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On this day, I have decided to dedicate and pay homage to one of the voices of my favorite group of all-time – The Temptations. Come along as I stroll down memory lane remembering the sweetness of harmony that is realized when we think of the Temptations. We know the classic lineup change often, but the music remained true to the “Temps” style.

Those who know the group, know that the great David Ruffin was only a member for about four years. In that short period of time, he became a legend, and that classic lineup became virtually immortal. After his departure, they needed a replacement, and they turned to the perfect compliment. Dennis Edwards, an ex Contour, is truly underrated for his work taking the group in a different direction and to another level. Imagine, if you can, replacing a living legend. We could say that it was the Dennis Edwards era of greatness.

Dennis Edwards came to Motown in search of a solo career. Motown signed him on a retainer, in order to keep him from signing with another label. He was eventually slotted into the rough and rowdy Contours. Meanwhile, Otis Williams and Eddie Kendricks, having seen him as he dominated a Contours performance, figured he would be a perfect replacement for David Ruffin, whose showboating had gotten on the groups last nerve.

With the addition of Dennis came a whole new sound, thanks to the genius of Norman Whitfield. “Cloud Nine” would give Motown and the Tempts their first Grammy. For the next six years Dennis’ soulful shout would be heard on hit after hit, including “I Can’t Get Next To You”, “Don’t Let The Jonses Get You Down”, “Ball Of Confusion”, and, of course, Grammy winner “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”.

By 1975, the group became tired of the social conscious “message” songs and wanted to return to the love songs they so enjoyed. The Tempt’s left Motown for Atlantic and Jeffrey Bowen took over production, and as a result, A Song For You would turn out to be one of the group’s most satisfying albums, as well as proving the versatility of Edwards.

Longevity is something that is rare in the music business. The Detroit-raised Edwards, who moved to St. Louis in the 70s to be close to his mother, remarked in a recent interview “I never imagined I’d be one of the last ones standing, me and Otis… We really got caught up in the times, and how the heck did I make it? … I had a mother who prayed for me, and prayer changes everything.”

Dennis always wanting a solo career, left the group and cut a solo album for Motown. The album never materialized and after a short and humbling stint as a construction worker, Dennis rejoined the group, who had returned to Motown, for the triumphant release of Power, a Berry Gordy produced album.

During all this, Dennis finally did release his first solo album, Don’t Look Any Further, in 1984. It was a great album, the title song with Siedah Garrett being one of the great duets of the decade, but Dennis began having problems with drugs. A second album, Coolin’ Out, was released the next year but proved to be far inferior to the first. The title track was a moving and autobiographical piece on which Dennis sings about trying to put his life back together.

In 1987, Dennis would again return to Motown for the appropriately titled, Together Again. But in 1988, embattled by personal crisis, he left the group for good. In 1989, after talking with friends and former group mates Ruffin and Kendricks at the Temptations R&R Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. He united with the pair and the trio set off on a historic US tour. A couple of years later, the unexpected deaths of his good friends, Ruffin and Kendrick, left Dennis alone.

After those tragic events, he formed several groups attempting to use varying forms of the name “Temptations” that he had to battle in and out of court for use of some form of the name. Now, seventy years old, he continues to perform as Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Review pleasing audiences all over the world. No matter what the result, Dennis Edwards is a true “Soul Survivor”, and one of the most gifted singers of our time. He still has his sensuous and soulful voice, and no one can take that away.

By the merciful grace of God, he is the only one of the classic Temptations lead singers alive to continue the legacy and we are so blessed. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

Twitter @ John T. Wills

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