On this day in 1977, The Supremes performed their farewell concert at London’s own Drury Lane Theatre in the West End. To mark the occasion, we’re looking back on the iconic girl group’s career and timeless music.
Founded as The Primettes in Michigan in 1959, the group originally consisted of Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown. McGlown was quickly replaced in 1960 by Barbara Martin before the group signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records the following year as The Supremes.
Reaching the Top
The group’s success grew and peaked during the 1960’s, and they quickly become one of the most successful artists of the decade, achieving 12 number one records on the Billboard charts, the most achieved by a Motown artist to date. The Supremes first nationally charting hit, “Your Heart Belongs to Me” was released in 1962 but was the last for the group as a quartet. Shortly after the record’s release, Barbara Martin left the group to begin a family, reducing the group to a trio.
The Supremes achieved their first number 1 single in 1964 with a two-week reign for “Where Did Our Love Go”. They then became the first Motown act to have more than one no. 1 single with “Baby Love” also reaching the top spot in the states, as well as becoming Motown’s first #1 single in the U.K. Their supremacy in the Billboard charts didn’t stop there with the next 3 releases also reaching #1, including “Come See About Me”.
Success in America quickly spread overseas and in October 1964, The Supremes had their UK television debut on the BBC’s celebrated music show Top of The Pops. Television performances become a regular occurrence, particularly in America, with the trio appearing on the likes of The Ed Sullivan Show, The Sammy Davis Show, The Dean Martin Show and NBC variety program “Hullabaloo!”
Perhaps one of The Supremes’ most famous singles, “Stop in the Name of Love” was released in March 1965 and reached the Billboard pop singles number one spot, the group’s unprecedented fourth consecutive #1 single. The next two years saw many other successful tracks reaching the top including “I Hear a Symphony”, “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone”.
In the height of their success in 1967, when Florence Ballard left the group and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong, Berry Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross and The Supremes, until Ross left in 1970 to pursue a solo career.
Ross was replaced by Jean Terrell and the group’s name reverted back to The Supremes. Throughout the 70’s the line-up changed frequently, with members including Susaye Greene, Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne.
In 1976, The Supremes released their final top 40 Billboard single, “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking” before having their final farewell performance on 12th June 1977 at the Drury Lane Theatre here in London.
The Supremes: The Legacy
The Supremes not only launched the career of international superstar Diana Ross through their renowned success, but also paved the way for future mainstream success for the other Motown artists and African American Soul and R&B artists in the US and around the world. To find out about more iconic artists, check out our Motown Timeline.