Florence Ballard of The Supremes
June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976
“Flo, she don’t know… that the boy she loves is a Romeo…”
If anyone ever got the shaft, in my opinion it was poor Flo, the Supreme on theright.She should have been on top of the world, but at 32 she was dead from heartfailure. Some might say a broken heart.
Florence, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson grew up in the now demolished Brewster Projects ofDetroit. See them then andnow. To makea fascinating story short, after begging Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for work, theywere hired to sing. They recorded a string of hits for Motown which still stand as a museum on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
Phone number TR1-3340 dontcha know.
They recordedmost of their hits including “Where Did Our Love Go,” and “Baby Love,”in Studio A.
We had a Death Hag meet up a few years back and toured the studio. This is our fun group.
The tour guide asked for 3 volunteers. Since I was kindathe group leader, I stepped up. They showed us a couple of hand and feetmovements and had the lyrics to MY GIRL in front of us. They then told usto sing and do these moved. At the beginning, I was moritified.
Then the guide said, “You just sang one of Motown’s greatest records in the very studio it was recorded. BAM.
An awesome moment.
The Surpemes toured, often being the first blacks to perform incertain clubs. One club they played was the Roostertail on the river in Detroit. When they were doing the researchfor the film Dreamgirls, some location people went to the Roostertail to takephotographs. The Rainbow Theater in the film is a tribute to theRoostertail, including the distinctive R in the logo.
When the big money started rolling in, all 3 girls bought houses on BuenaVista, in Detroit, this was Flo’s.
I love “Back in my Arms Again” because the lyrics reference both Mary and Flo on background vocals, and Flo doing that… ‘mmhmm ghuurlll” look.
Our white bread is made of genuine black girls.
The popular story is that Flo (who coined the name Supremes) had the better singingvoice but was less aesthetically pleasing that Diane Ross, for whom Berry Gordy hadromantic interest. After the group became successful, the name was changed to to”Diana Ross and the Supremes.” Flo was a proud girl, and resented the attentionheaped on Diana and (literally) being shoved to the background. Flo was PISSED.
She started drinking(I know I would, but it wouldn’t take much to send me there anyway), and showed up to gigs drunk andlate. That I wouldn’t do. Motown fired her and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong.
Flo signed away all her rights to “The Supremes” for $139.804.94 in 1968, in ahush hush meeting in the now demolished Northland Inn.
She married Motown chauffeur Tommy Chapman.
In 1971, Flo sued Motown for$8.7 million for back royalties, and because Gordy, “secretly,subversively and maliciously plotted and planned” to oust her from the group. Shethought the initial settlement was “meager and grossly inadequate.” The judgethought otherwise, and it was thrown out of court.
Tommy Chapman too over management of Flo’s from then on, butlacked experienc.The money from the initial settlement was eventually squandered. She and Tommy separated. Flo lost her house onBuena Vista, and she and their 3 children ended up on welfare.
In the fall of 1975, she came in to some money from some sort of “legalsettlement,” (supposedly a “slip and fall”) and bought a house onShaftsbury Street. in Detroit. She got back together with Tommy, and things were starting to lookup.
Findadeath friend Christopher Richards states:
She entered Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital (now a division of Grace Hospital) onSaturday, February 21, 1976, complaining of numbness in her extremities.
A police report saidshe had “ingested an unknown amount of pills and consumed alcohol.” A doctorconfirmed that “they were medication for overweight and high blood pressure.”She died at 10:05 the next morning, the result of a blood clot in her coronary artery.
Flo was laid out in the Stinson Funeral Home on West Grand Boulevard.She was put in a light blue steel coffin, and wore a light blue choir robe. Gladys Knightand Diana Ross sent flowers. She had the florist sign the sentiment, “I love youBlondie – Diana.” psh.
On Friday, Feb 27th, almost 5000 people lined the street in front of theNew Bethel Baptist Church to say goodbye to her. Diana Ross arrived and was booed by the crowd. TheReverend C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s dad) presided over the service. Members of the Four Tops,Marvin Johnson and Thearon Hill served as pallbearers. Stevie Wonder was an honorary(insert obvious joke here) one. Diana made her grand entrance, and sat in the front rowwith the immediate family. No one had the nerve to tell her to piss off.
My pal Lisa Burks sends this clipping
To quote theDetroit Free Press, “Ms. Ross’s eyes filled with tears, and the photographers snappedher picture.” She surprised and embarrassed Mary Wilson, the other Supreme, by announcing theywanted a quiet moment with Flo (in front of all the mourners). When they tookFlo’s casketout, the organist played “Someday, We’ll Be Together.” A nice touch, but neitherFlo nor Mary sang on that particular record – it was recorded by Diana and twosession singers. That. Just. Sucks.
When they left the church the crowd went nuts, grabbing for the flowers off thecasket. Here’s mine. Psych. I wish. 32 Detroit Policemen barely had the crowd under control. “A funeral homeattendant used the base of one of the arrangements as a spear, thrusting at persons in anattempt to keep them from grabbing the flowers. Finally, in frustration, he and the otherattendants gave up and the whole arrangements were passed into the crowd, where peoplemadly grabbed for bits and pieces.
At Detroit Memorial Park, there were no cameras, no reporters, and no Diana Ross. Theonly ones that went the whole 9 yards were Flo’s family, Mary Wilson, and the pallbearers.They said a quiet goodbye, Flo was lowered into the ground, and they left.
We liked Flo. Bless her.
Update: Even now, Motown continues to whorethe original “Supremes,” with a new group of gals.
Did you ever notice how Diana Ross’ eyes bug out when she sings?
Back in 1999 when I lived in England, I wasgiven the opportunity to attend a tv taping of An Evening With Diana Ross -front rowcenter. As much as I wanted to hate being there, it was Miss Ross. When shemade eye contact with me while singing a Supremes song, you can’t help butbe caught up in it. Even though she was an ice queen to the Director, itwas an awesome night.