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Ballard in a promotional poster for ABC Records in 1968.
|Birth name||Florence Glenda Ballard|
|Also known as||Florence Chapman|
June 30, 1943|
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||February 22, 1976
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Genres||R&B, pop, soul|
|Years active||1959–1970; 1975-76|
|Associated acts||The Primettes, The Supremes|
Florence Ballard Chapman (born Florence Glenda Ballard, June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976), was an American vocalist, best known as one of the founding members of the popular Motown vocal group The Supremes. As a member, Ballard sang on sixteen top forty singles with the group, including ten number-one hits.
After being removed from the Supremes in 1967, Ballard tried an unsuccessful solo career with ABC Records before she was dropped from the label at the end of the decade. Ballard struggled with alcoholism, depression and poverty for a period of three years. Ballard was making an attempt for a musical comeback when she died of cardiac arrest in February of 1976 at the age of 32. Ballard's death was considered by one critic as "one of rock's greatest tragedies".
Ballard was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes in 1988.
Ballard was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 30, 1943, to Lurlee (née Wilson) and Jesse Ballard. Her mother was a resident of Rosetta, Mississippi. Her father was from Bessemer, Alabama and was born with the name of Jesse Lambert. After his grandmother was shot and killed, another family, the Ballards, adopted him, and his surname changed from Lambert to Ballard. Jesse Ballard left his adoptive parents at thirteen and soon engaged in an affair with Ballard's mother, who was only fourteen, in Rosetta. The Ballards moved to Detroit in 1929. Jesse soon worked at General Motors. Ballard was the eighth of thirteen children born to the Ballards. Ballard's father was also an amateur musician and helped instigate his daughter's interest in singing, teaching her various songs while providing accompaniment on the guitar. Ballard and her family frequently moved to different neighborhoods in Detroit due to financial struggles. Eventually, the family settled at Detroit's Brewster-Douglass housing projects by the time Ballard had reached fifteen. Ballard's father died the following year from cancer.
Named "Blondie" and "Flo" by family and friends, Ballard attended Northeastern High School and was coached vocally by Abraham Silver. Ballard met future singing partner Mary Wilson during a middle school talent show, later becoming friends while attending Northeastern High. From an early age, Ballard aspired to be a singer and agreed to audition for a spot on a sister group of the local Detroit attraction, The Primes. After she was accepted, Ballard recruited Mary Wilson to join Jenkins' group. Wilson, in turn, enlisted another neighbor, Diana Ross, then going by "Diane". Betty McGlown completed the original lineup and Jenkins named them as "The Primettes". The group performed at talent showcases and at school parties before auditioning for Motown Records in 1960. Gordy advised the group to graduate from high school before auditioning again. Ballard eventually dropped out of high school though her other group mates graduated.
Later in 1960, the Primettes signed a contract with Lu Pine Records, issuing two songs that failed to perform well. During that year, they kept pursuing a Motown contract and agreed to do anything that was required, including adding handclaps and vocal backgrounds. By the end of the year, Berry Gordy agreed to have the group record songs in the studio. In January 1961, Gordy agreed to sign them on the condition they change their name. Janie Bradford approached Ballard with a list of names to choose from before Ballard picked on "Supremes". When the other members heard of the new name, they weren't pleased. Diana Ross feared they would be mistaken for a male vocal group. Eventually Gordy agreed to sign them under that name on January 15, 1961.
The group struggled in their early years with the label, releasing eight singles that failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100, giving them the nickname, "no-hit Supremes". One track, "Buttered Popcorn", led by Ballard, was a regional hit in the Midwest, but still failed to chart. During a 1962 Motortown Revue tour, Ballard briefly replaced The Marvelettes' Wanda Young as Young was on maternity leave. Before the release of their 1962 debut album, Meet the Supremes, Barbara Martin, who had replaced Betty McGlown a year before they signed to Motown, left the group. Ballard, Ross and Wilson remained a trio. After the hit success of 1963's "When the Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes", Diana Ross became the lead singer of the group.
In the spring of 1964, the group released "Where Did Our Love Go", which became their first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, paving the way for ten number-one hits recorded by Ross, Ballard and Wilson between 1964 and 1967. After many rehearsals with Cholly Atkins and Maurice King, the Supremes' live shows improved dramatically as well. During this time, Ballard would contribute leads to songs on Supremes albums, including a cover of Sam Cooke's "(Ain't That) Good News". During live shows, Ballard often performed the Barbra Streisand standard, "People". According to Mary Wilson, Ballard's vocals were so loud she was made to stand 17 feet away from her microphone during recording sessions. All in all, Ballard contributed vocals to ten number-one pop hits and 16 top forty hit singles between 1963 and 1967.
Exit from The Supremes and solo career
Ballard expressed dissatisfaction of the group's direction throughout its successful period. She'd also claim that their schedule had forced the group members to drift apart from one another. Ballard blamed Motown Records for destroying the group dynamic by making Diana Ross the star. Struggling to cope with label demands and her own bout with depression, Ballard turned to alcohol for comfort, leading to arguments with her group members. Ballard's alcoholism led to her missing performances and recording sessions. Gordy sometimes replaced Ballard on stage with The Andantes' Marlene Barrow. In April 1967, Cindy Birdsong, member of Patti LaBelle and The Blue Belles, became a stand-in for Ballard. A month later, after Ballard took a leave of absence, she returned to the group for what she thought was a temporary leave. In June, Gordy changed the name of the group to "The Supremes with Diana Ross", which was billed atop the banner of Las Vegas' Flamingo Hotel.
On July 1, a day after her 24th birthday, Ballard showed up inebriated during the group's third performance at the Flamingo and stuck her stomach out from her suit, which angered Gordy, who then ordered Ballard to return to Detroit, with Birdsong officially replacing her, abruptly ending her tenure with the Supremes. It had been decided as early as May that Birdsong would be Ballard's official replacement once Birdsong's contract with the Bluebelles was bought out. In August 1967, the Detroit Free Press reported that Ballard had taken a temporary leave of absence from the group due to "exhaustion". Ballard eventually married her boyfriend, Thomas Chapman, on February 29, 1968. A week earlier, on February 22, Ballard and Motown negotiated to have Ballard released from the label. Her attorney in the matter received a one-time payment of $139,804.94 in royalties and earnings from Motown. As part of the settlement, Ballard was advised to not promote her solo work as a former member of the Supremes.
In March 1968, Ballard signed with ABC Records, releasing two unsuccessful singles. After an album for the label was shelved, her settlement money was depleted from the Chapmans' management agency, Talent Management, Inc. The agency had been led by Leonard Baun, Ballard's attorney who had helped to settle Ballard's matters with Motown. Following news that Baun was facing multiple charges of embezzlement, Ballard fired him. Ballard continued to perform as a solo artist, opening for Bill Cosby in September of the year at Chicago's Auditorium Theater. In October 1968, Ballard gave birth to twin daughters Michelle and Nicole. In January 1969, Ballard performed at one of newly elected President Richard Nixon's inaugural balls. Ballard was dropped from ABC in 1970.
In July 1971, Ballard sued Motown for additional royalty payments she believed she was due to receive; Ballard was defeated in court by Motown. That year, she gave birth to her third daughter, Lisa. Shortly afterwards, Ballard and her husband separated after several domestic disputes. That same year, Ballard's home was foreclosed. Facing poverty and depression, Ballard developed alcoholism and shied away from the spotlight. In 1972, she moved into sister Maxine's house. Two years later, in 1974, Mary Wilson invited Ballard to join the Supremes, which now included Cindy Birdsong and Scherrie Payne (Ross had left for her successful solo career in 1970), at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California. Though Ballard played tambourine, she didn't sing and told Wilson she had no ambition to sing anymore.
Later that year, Ballard's plight started to be reported in newspapers as word got around that the singer had applied for welfare. Around that time, Ballard entered Henry Ford Hospital for rehab treatment. Following six weeks of treatment, Ballard slowly started to recover.
In early 1975, Ballard received an insurance settlement from her former attorney's insurance company. The settlement money helped Ballard buy a home in Detroit's Shaftsbury Avenue. Inspired by the financial success, Ballard decided to return to singing and also reconciled with Chapman. Ballard's first concert performance in more than five years took place at the Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium in Detroit on June 25, 1975. Ballard performed as part of the Joan Little Defense League and was backed by female rock group The Deadly Nightshade. Following this, Ballard began receiving offers for interviews with Jet magazine being one of the first to report on Ballard and her recovery.
On February 21, 1976, Ballard entered Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital, complaining of numbness in her extremities. She died at 10:05 the next morning from cardiac arrest, caused by a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in one of her coronary arteries), at the age of 32.
Ballard is buried in Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery located in Warren, Michigan.
In 1960, Ballard was raped at knife point by local high school basketball player Reggie Harding after leaving a sock hop at Detroit's Graystone Ballroom where she had attended with her brother, but were separated accidentally. The rape occurred at an empty parking lot off of Woodward Avenue. Ballard responded by secluding herself in her house refusing to come outside, which worried her group mates. Weeks later, Ballard eventually told Wilson and Ross of what happened. Though Ross and Wilson were sympathetic to what had happened to Ballard, they were confused as Ballard was considered to be strong-willed and unflappable; the rape was never mentioned again. Prior to the rape, Ballard had been described by Wilson and an early boyfriend, Jesse Greer, as being a "generally happy if somewhat mischievous and sassy teenager". Wilson believes the rape incident heavily contributed to the more self-destructive aspects of Ballard's adult personality, such as her cynicism, pessimism and fear or mistrust of others. Ballard began dating Thomas Chapman in 1967, marrying him a year later. Ballard reportedly suffered domestic abuse from Chapman. Ballard had three daughters, twins Michelle and Nicole, and youngest daughter Lisa. Ballard was still married to Chapman at the time of her death.
Florence Ballard's story has been referenced in a number of works by other artists. The 1980 song "Romeo's Tune", from Mississippian Steve Forbert's album Jackrabbit Slim is "dedicated to the memory of Florence Ballard". The Billy Bragg song "King James Version" on his William Bloke album contains the line "Remember the sadness in Florence Ballard's eyes". On his 2006 album Hip Hop is Dead, hip-hop artist Nas mentions the Ballard/Ross rivalry in his song "Blunt Ashes": "When Flo from the Supremes died/Diana Ross cried/Many people said that she was laughing inside." In his short story "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band", Stephen King, through the late disc jockey Alan Freed, includes Ballard as one of the deceased artists who performs in a town called “Rock and Roll Heaven”.
Dreamgirls, a 1981 Broadway musical, chronicles a fictional group called "The Dreams," and a number of plot components parallel 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 a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie White in the Dreamgirls film. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Hudson dedicated her win to Florence Ballard.
The music video for the Diana Ross song "Missing You" pays tribute to Marvin Gaye, Florence Ballard, and Paul Williams, all former Motown artists who had died. In 1988, Ballard was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes alongside Diana Ross and Mary Wilson.
Ballard comes from a family which, in addition to her three daughters Nicole Chapman, Lisa Chapman and Michelle Chapman, included her cousin Hank Ballard and his grand-nephew NFL player Christian Ballard.
- 2002: The Supreme Florence "Flo" Ballard (originally shelved by ABC Records in 1968 under the proposed title, "...You Don't Have To")
- 1969: "It Doesn't Matter How I Say It (It's What I Say That Matters)" b/w "Goin' Out of My Head" (ABC Records #45-11074A/B)
- 1968: "Love Ain't Love" b/w "Forever Faithful" (ABC Records #45-11144A/B)
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- Benjaminson, Peter (September 1, 2009). The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 1-5565-2959-7.
- Rivera, Ursula (December 1, 2001). The Supremes. The Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8239-3527-2.
- Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Diana Ross: A Biography. New York: Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8154-1000-X.
- Wilson, Mary. Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. ISBN 0-8154-1000-X.
- Wilson, Randall (1999) Forever Faithful! A Study of Florence Ballard and the Supremes, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Renaissance Sound Publications. ISBN 978-0-943485-03-4
- Florence Ballard at the Internet Movie Database
- Florence Ballard at Find a Grave
- Florence Ballard at AllMusic