The Supremes facts: Dreamgirls, songs, reunions, and members including Diana Ross and Mary Wilson

21 March 2022, 10:45 | Updated: 25 July 2023, 14:24

Supremes legend Mary Wilson on Motown's 60th and its ongoing legacy

By Tom Eames

The Supremes were one of the first all-girl groups to score massive international success, paving the way for bands from the Three Degrees to the Spice Girls.

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In just a few years, they dominated the charts and helped Motown become of the biggest record labels in the world.

Here is your handy guide to all the big facts about The Supremes, as the latest inductees into Gold's Hall of Fame.

  1. Who were in The Supremes and when were they formed?

    The Primettes
    The Primettes. Picture: Getty

    The Supremes were an American female singing group, who started as The Primettes in 1959.

    Later becoming The Supremes, they were the most commercially successful of Motown's acts, and are still America's most successful vocal group, with 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

    Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, and Betty McGlown were in the original group, having grown up in Detroit.

    They formed the Primettes as the sister act to the Primes (including 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 group in 1962, with Ross, Ballard, and Wilson carrying on as a trio.

    In 1967, Motown president Berry Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross & the Supremes, and replaced Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. In 1970, Ross left for a solo career and was replaced by Jean Terrell and the group went back to being The Supremes.

    In the mid-1970s, the lineup saw Lynda Laurence, Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene joining until the group called it a day in 1977.

  2. How did The Supremes meet?

    The Supremes in 1962
    The Supremes in 1962. Picture: Getty

    In Detroit in 1958, Florence Ballard was a high school student living in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects. She met Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who were two members of a singing group known as the Primes.

    Ballard sang, as did Williams' girlfriend Betty McGlown, and so the Primes's manager created a sister group to be called the Primettes.

    Ballard also recruited her best friend Mary Wilson, who then recruited classmate Diana Ross.

    After winning a local talent contest, Ross asked her old neighbour, Miracles singer Smokey Robinson, to help them land an audition for Motown. However, Berry Gordy felt the girls were too young and inexperienced and asked them to return when they had graduated from high school.

    Berry Gordy Jr and the Supremes
    Berry Gordy Jr and the Supremes. Picture: Getty

    After Barbara Martin replaced McGlown, the Primettes often visited Gordy's Hitsville USA recording studio every day after school. Eventually, they convinced him to allow them to contribute hand claps and backing vocals for other Motown songs.

    In January 1961, Gordy finally signed the girls to his label, but under the condition that they change the name of their group. Ballard chose "the Supremes", a name Ross didn't like at first, as she felt it was too masculine.

  3. Why did Diana Ross quit?

    Diana Ross in 1970
    Diana Ross in 1970. Picture: Getty

    Motown's Holland-Dozier-Holland writing trio left in early 1968 after a dispute with the label over royalties.

    The quality of Motown's songs started to falter, and the Supremes weren't scoring as many hits.

    With tensions rising within the group and busy touring schedules, neither Mary Wilson or Cindy Birdsong appeared on many singles in the late 1960s, and were replaced by session singers.

    By 1969, Motown began plans for a Diana Ross solo career, and several singers were considered to replace her. Jean Terrell was chosen, and began to record the first post-Ross Supremes songs with Wilson and Birdsong during the day, while Wilson and Birdsong toured with Ross at night.

    Diana Ross & the Supremes gave their final performance together on January 14, 1970 at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas.

  4. Have they ever reunited?

    Motown Tribute to Berry Gordy

    In 1982, after Motown reunited all of the Temptations, it was rumoured that they'd do the same with the Supremes.

    The 1974 line-up (Wilson, Birdsong and Payne) was considered, but Wilson declined, and the idea was cancelled.

    Ross briefly reunited with Wilson and Birdsong to perform 'Someday We'll Be Together' on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special in 1983.

    In 2000, there were plans for Ross to join Wilson and Birdsong for a Diana Ross & the Supremes: Return to Love reunion tour. However, Wilson passed again, as promoters offered Ross $15 million compared to Wilson's $4 million and Birdsong's less than $1 million.

    Ross offered to double the amounts for both Wilson and Birdsong, but while Birdsong accepted, Wilson declined once more. The tour went ahead, but with Payne and Laurence joining Ross, despite none of the three ever being in the group at the same time.

    Mary Wilson died in 2021 at the age of 76.

  5. Is Dreamgirls based on The Supremes?

    Dreamgirls (2006) - trailer

    In 1981, the Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls opened on Broadway.

    The musical is loosely based on the history of the Supremes, and follows the story of the Dreams, an all-female singing trio.

    Several of the characters are versions of real-life Supremes or Motown artists, with the story focusing upon the Florence Ballard-alike Effie White.

    Mary Wilson was a big fan, but Diana Ross was reportedly not happy with it and refused to see it.

  6. What are their biggest hits?

    Supremes - Baby Love 1964

    Among The Supremes' biggest songs include:

    - Baby Love

    - You Can't Hurry Love

    - Stop! In the Name of Love

    - Where Did Our Love Go

    - Back In My Arms Again

    - You Keep Me Hanging On

    - Some Day We'll Be Together

    - I'm Gonna Make You Love Me