The story of the Supremes is one of the great music business fairy tales: three girls from the

projects of Detroit taken under the wing of Motown Records, the most successful hitmaking factory in pop music, rise to become global superstars.

Like any fairy tale it demands a wicked witch, and that role seems to have fallen to the unfortunate figure of Diana Ross. In a succession of books, and the musical Dreamgirls(a thinly veiled account of the Supremes’ story) Ross has been characterised as scheming, self-serving and manipulative. In this gossipy, lurid and entertaining book, Mark Ribowsky shows no hesitation in joining in with the vilification. “Intolerable harpy” is one of the kinder phrases he uses to describe Ross, painting a picture that sometimes threatens to become less wicked witch than pantomime dame. There is no denying the Supremes’ place as the most successful female artists in pop history (12 American number one hits) and as the exemplars of the Motown sound at its most refined and seductive. But this is essentially the story of the relationship between Ross and Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, and the toll it exacted on the other two Supremes, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. Ribowsky suggests that almost from the moment the 16-year-old Ross walked into Motown, Gordy’s behaviour was shaped by a “Freudian admixture of paternal and predatory impulses” he felt towards his young ingénue. For her part, Ross, he suggests, was prepared to sleep with whomever would further her career – first Smokey Robinson, himself an incorrigible womaniser, then the producer and songwriter Brian Holland – until she landed the boss himself, a man whom Marvin Gaye once described as “the horniest man in Detroit”.

. and vividly conjures the joyous and exhilarating celebration of life that was the Motown sound. who nobly served as father to the child that she had conceived with Gordy. and into the popular (that is to say white) marketplace. cut deals. Shelley Berger. before dying in 1976 from a heart attack at the age of 32. detailed accounts of life in the “snakepit” of the label’s Studio A. He dreamed of the Supremes – and more particularly Ross – moving out of the ghetto of black music. (Interestingly. She’s as selfish as I am. who had nominally been the Supremes’ leader. and spiralled into a sad decline. I need somebody to kiss my ass. who was in charge of booking out Motown acts. “to gauze the hurt”. produced. groaning with feuds and infidelities. “But there was another side.) Gordy liked to depict Motown as a “family”. losing her home and living on welfare benefits. as Ribowsky elegantly puts it. He offers compelling.Libido notwithstanding. the local Detroit newspaper declined to give the hometown stars a write-up on the grounds that “We can’t put black people on the cover of a TV magazine”.” The principal victim in this saga is the unfortunate Florence Ballard. Robert Silberstein. “People talk about how inspired Berry was by young talent. but Ribowsky suggests it was a deeply dysfunctional one: a “hormonal buffet”. Gordy. built careers and assembled a dazzling array of young talent to feed his production line of hits. and by 1965 “it was understood the Supremes’ audience was white”. I’m going to have to be kissing her ass all the time. Ballard turned to drink. wiser people? You figure it out. says he never fielded a single offer for the Supremes from a black promoter. draws heavily on secondary sources. meanwhile. Could he have been able to take advantage of older. The scale of Gordy’s accomplishment becomes more apparent when you learn that when the Supremes first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. with a large side order of good old-fashioned showbiz exploitation. succeeded in making Ross the solo star they both always dreamed she would be. and Ribowsky. but finally balked at her ultimatum to marry her: “I can’t marry this woman. All of the principals here have either written their own books or been the subjects of biographies (both in Ross’s case).” Ross married a businessman. inevitably. She was finally eased out of the group in 1967. too. but found herself progressively sidelined by Gordy’s obsession with Ross. who wrote. Gordy was a type not seen in music today – “a record man”. to which end he had them producing abominations like A Bit of Liverpool (Gerry and the Pacemakers’ covers anyone?) and creaking Broadway show tunes like You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You.” says one Motown artist. Identified at Motown as a “problem”.

The Supremes: a Saga of Motown Dreams. she’s just a substitute/Because you’re the permanent one” (inspired. Success and Betrayal by Mark Ribowsky 480pp. he suggests. by Robinson’s affair with Ross) in the song Ooo Baby.25 p&p) from Telegraph Books .000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean” from Detroit to London – a long way from the projects.99 Buy now for £12. but not quite that far. Da Capo. Baby when it’s actually from the marvellous The Tracks of My Tears. He wrongly places Robinson’s immortal couplet “Although she may be cute.But the book seems to have been written in a hurry and suffers from sloppy editing and careless errors. it’s true. And he has the Supremes making a trip in 1964 “10.99 (plus £1. £14.

The Supremes' career has been nothing short of remarkable. on television. A dazzling celebration of one of the most successful musical groups of the sixties. acclaimed music journalist Daryl Easlea traces the history of a group that was second only to the Beatles in number-one hits and whose success story helped change racial perceptions during the civil rights movement. The Story of The Supremes is a magnificent collection of dresses worn by Mary Wilson. From their beginnings as The Primettes to the height of their glamour and fame in the seventies. Here.HARDCOVER. and of course. A joyful tribute to the queens of Motown. . The Story of the Supremes presents the incredible wardrobe that created the group's unmistakable style and the billboards. in concert. and photographs that made it timeless. posters. Florence Ballard. and on the iconic album covers that defined an era of music. Diana Ross.

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