Florence Ballard

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Florence "Flo" Ballard
Flo ABC Records Promo from 1968.jpg
Ballard in a promotional poster for ABC Records in 1968.
Background information
Birth name Florence Glenda Ballard
Also known as Florence Chapman
Born (1943-06-30)June 30, 1943
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died February 22, 1976(1976-02-22) (aged 32)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres R&B, pop, soul
Occupations Singer
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1959–1976
Labels Lu Pine, Motown, ABC
Associated acts The Primettes, The Supremes, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson

Florence Ballard Chapman (born Florence Glenda Ballard, June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976), was an American recording artist and 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.

In 1967, Ballard was removed from the Supremes lineup and the singer signed with ABC Records in 1968 forging on an unsuccessful solo career. After being dropped from the label, 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.[1] Ballard's death was considered by one critic as "one of rock's greatest tragedies".[2] Ballard was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes in 1988.

Early life[edit]

Ballard was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 30, 1943, to Lurlee (née Wilson) and Jesse Ballard.[3][4] Her mother was a resident of Rosetta, Mississippi.[4] Her father was from Bessemer, Alabama and was born with the name of Jesse Lambert.[4] After his grandmother was shot and killed, another family, the Ballards, adopted him, and his surname changed from Lambert to Ballard.[4] Jesse Ballard left his adoptive parents at thirteen and soon engaged in an affair with Ballard's mother, who was only fourteen, in Rosetta.[5] The Ballards moved to Detroit in 1929.[6] Jesse soon worked at General Motors.[3][7] Ballard was the eighth of thirteen children born to the Ballards.[3][5] 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.[8]

Ballard earned two nicknames as a child: "Flo" and "Blondie", the latter due to her mixed racial heritage and light auburn hair. Ballard attended Northeastern High School and was coached vocally by Abraham Silver. While in Northeastern, Ballard met a girl from a different school named Mary Wilson as the two sang on the same talent show. Shortly after, they became friends. In 1959, Ballard was spotted on her porch by a local talent scout named Milton Jenkins, then manager of the vocal group the Primes, as he sought to find female vocalists to fill spots for a sister group of the Primes.[9] Impressed by her vocals, Jenkins asked Ballard if she knew any more singers. Ballard soon asked Wilson to join the group.[10] Wilson then enlisted another neighbor, Diane Ross.[10] Betty McGlown completed the original lineup and Jenkins named them the Primettes.

After performing in sock hops and jubilees for much of a year, the group auditioned for Motown Records founder Berry Gordy after Motown staffer Richard Morris introduced the group to him.[11] Gordy advised the underage vocal group to graduate from high school before auditioning again.[12] Shortly afterwards, 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

Career[edit]

The Supremes[edit]

In 1994, The Supremes were recognized with a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7060 Hollywood Blvd.

Ballard eventually returned to her career and the Primettes signed their first deal with local label Lupine Records, releasing one record, "Tears of Sorrow", backed up by a song called "Pretty Baby".[16] Neither song charted. Despite the assumption that Ballard was the group's original lead vocalist, Ross and Wilson sung lead on the respective songs. Following this, Betty McGlown was replaced by Barbara Martin and the group persisted on getting signed to Motown by sitting on the steps of Motown's Hitsville USA building and flirting with Motown's male artists and staffers.[17] When a staff producer would come outside looking for people to provide background vocals or handclaps, the group would often participate.[18] Ballard eventually dropped out of high school though her other group mates graduated.[19]

Eventually, Berry Gordy allowed the girls to record songs with the label.[20] In August 1960, the group recorded the ballad, "After All", which included all four members singing a lead part. Later in 1960, they recorded the songs "You Can Depend on Me", "I Want a Guy" and "Buttered Popcorn", the latter song featuring Ballard in her first song as lead vocalist. During this period, they provided background vocals for more established Motown acts including Marvin Gaye, Marv Johnson and Mary Wells.[16] In January of 1961, Gordy relented and allowed the group to be signed under the condition they change their name.[21] Gordy and staffer Janie Bradford wrote a list of names for the girls on a list.[22] Bradford presented the list to Ballard. Ballard eventually picked the name "Supremes". Though the other members felt that they would be mistaken for a male vocal group, the name stuck and Gordy signed them on January 15.

Motown then issued "I Want a Guy" and the Ballard-led "Buttered Popcorn" successively; neither charted, though both songs became regional successes in Detroit. By the spring of 1962, Martin had left the group to get married and the rest of the group continued on as a trio. That same year, Ballard briefly left the group to perform with The Marvelettes, replacing Wanda Young, who was on a maternity leave. Ballard returned to the Supremes in May of the year and the following June had their first charted single with "Your Heart Belongs to Me", recorded before Martin left the group. Between 1961 and 1963, eight Supremes singles failed to chart successfully. Though there had been no designated lead vocalist in the Supremes, Berry Gordy felt Diana Ross' pop-oriented vocals would bring the group success. After the success of the single, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes", Ross was made the group's official lead singer from then on.[23]

In 1964, the group scored their first number-one single, "Where Did Our Love Go" and eventually scored a total of three number-one singles in 1964 alone including "Baby Love" and "Come See About Me". By then, the group's live performances were given polish by Maurice King and Cholly Atkins. During live performances, the group incorporated standards. Ballard was given a lead vocal on the song, "People", which became her trademark lead onstage for a number of years. Ballard became popular with audiences due to her onstage candor, which included telling jokes, which went over well. Most of the jokes were in response to Diana Ross' comments. Ballard sung lead sporadically on several Supremes albums including a cover of Sam Cooke's "(Ain't That) Good News" on the group's tribute album, We Remember Sam Cooke. According to Wilson, Ballard's vocals were so loud that she was made to stand 17 feet away from her microphone during recording sessions.[24] Ballard's voice, which went up three octaves, was often described as "soulful, big, rich and commanding", ranging from deep contralto to operatic soprano.[25] All in all, Ballard contributed vocals to ten number-one pop hits and 16 top forty hit singles between 1963 and 1967.

Conflict with Berry Gordy and exit from The Supremes[edit]

Despite the Supremes' rise to fame, Ballard was reportedly depressed. Ballard would later complain that their success had a negative impact on their once-close bond, once telling an interviewer in 1975 that she, Ross and Wilson would have their own hotel rooms whereas in the past they had shared one hotel room.[26] Ballard also felt that Motown's role in making Diana Ross a star was also having a negative impact on the group.[26] To combat these issues and more, Ballard turned to alcohol and constantly had arguments with Wilson and Ross.[26] Ballard also began to have conflicts with Berry Gordy as she felt Gordy had cheapened the group's sound from R&B to pop.

One night in 1966, prior to opening at the Copacabana supper club, Ballard had come down with a sore throat and asked Ross to sing "People".[26] Gordy responded to this by having Ross lead the song from that point onward, which depressed Ballard and further deteriorated the relationship between Gordy and Ballard. During 1966, Ballard started gaining weight and missing performances and some recording sessions. She would be replaced often with The Andantes' Marlene Barrow. Eventually Cindy Birdsong, who was a member of The Bluebelles, became a stand-in for Ballard throughout 1967 starting that April.

Ballard returned to the group that May, thinking her leave was only temporarily. In late June, Gordy officially 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.[27] 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.[28] 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. Seven days 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.

Solo career attempts and decline[edit]

Signing with ABC Records in March 1968 and with Chapman as her manager, Ballard recorded and released two solo singles with the label, "It Doesn't Matter How I Say It (It's What I Say That Matters)" and "Love Ain't Love". The songs failed to chart and an upcoming solo album with ABC was shelved as a result. Due to this, 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.

Despite these successes, Ballard's solo career suffered and she eventually was dropped from ABC Records 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.

Comeback and sudden death[edit]

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.

Also, Ballard was in talks to sign a new record deal and starting to write her autobiography documenting her life and career. On February 21, 1976, Ballard entered Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital, complaining of numbness in her extremities. She died at 10:05 a.m. the ensuing morning from cardiac arrest,[29] caused by a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in one of her coronary arteries),[30] at the age of 32.[30]

Ballard is buried in Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery located in Warren, Michigan.[31]

Legacy[edit]

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 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.[32] 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.

Family[edit]

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.

Discography[edit]

Lead vocals with The Supremes[edit]

  • "Year" represents year song was either recorded, released originally or supposed to be released (in cases of songs such as "After All" which were released years after they were recorded).
Year Title Album
1960 "Pretty Baby"
  • B-side to "Tears of Sorrow" - the only single released by The Primettes, the group name The Supremes went by originally.
  • Mary Wilson leads most of the song but Ballard leads intro with her soprano vocals and repeats her operatic riff in the break of the song and in the outro.
The Supremes Box Set
1961 "After All"
  • Not featured on the original release of Meet The Supremes, but was recorded in the same sessions
  • Features all members leading a verse, including fourth member Barbara Martin, with Ballard leading the first
"Save Me a Star"
  • Not featured on the original release of Meet The Supremes, but was recorded in the same sessions
The Never-Before-Released Masters
"Hey Baby" The Supreme Florence "Flo" Ballard
"Heavenly Father"
  • Not featured on the original release of Meet The Supremes, but was recorded in the same sessions
"Buttered Popcorn"
  • Only Supremes A-side to feature Ballard on lead
Meet The Supremes
1962 "Let Me Go the Right Way"
  • Ballard leads intro singing "A go-go right" with Ross leading the rest of the song; Ballard's ad-libs are also prominent in the song's outro
1963 "(The Man With The) Rock And Roll Banjo Band"
  • Ballard & Wilson sing close harmony lead vocals in unison with Ross's main leads
The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop
A Breathtaking Guy
  • Released as a single, it features each member leading one line of the chorus, though Ross leads all the verses. Ballard leads the line "First sight soul-shaking...".
Where Did Our Love Go
1964 "Long Gone Lover"
  • Ballard leads the outro while Ross leads the remainder of the song
"Baby Love"
  • - Ross leads but Ballard & Wilson each have brief solos (ad-libs) on the released (second) version of the song.
  • Ballard sings "...need you..." twice just before the last verse
"How Do You Do It?"
  • All three members of the group sing the song's lead vocal in unison.
A Bit of Liverpool
"I Saw Him Standing There"
  • Recorded for A Bit of Liverpool but not featured on album
Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Motown's Lost & Found)
"Not Fade Away"
  • Recorded for A Bit of Liverpool but not featured on album
  • A group lead with harmonies throughout but with Ballard most prominent – as she sings the main melody while Ross and Wilson harmonize with her
1965 "It Makes No Difference Now"
  • All members lead a verse with Ballard leading the second
The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop
"(Ain't That) Good News"
  • One of Flo's most notable leads from the group's tribute album to Sam Cooke
We Remember Sam Cooke
"Silent Night"
  • Wasn't featured on the original release but has been featured on re-releases of the album
  • An a cappella version of Ballard singing the first verse can be found on Diana Ross & The Supremes: The Never Before Released Masters
Merry Christmas
"O Holy Night"
  • Recorded most likely in the sessions for the Merry Christmas album but is yet to be featured on any version/release of that album
A Motown Christmas, Volume 2
"People"
  • Ballard leads most of the show-tune made popular by Barbra Streisand while Ross leads one verse towards the end before Ballard ad-libs
There's A Place For Us
"Fancy Passes"
  • Ross leads but Ballard & Wilson each are featured on some spoken lines (and a few brief solos).
The Never-Before-Released Masters
1967 "Manhattan"
  • Not featured on the original release of The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart but has been featured on re-releases of the album.
  • Lead mostly by Ross but Ballard is featured prominently
  • Mono mix can be found on Diana Ross & the Supremes' 25th Anniversary
The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart
"The Ballad of Davy Crockett"
  • Ballard does a spoken part (early rap) while Wilson sings lead on the rest of the song.
  • Recorded for shelved Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing Disney Classics album but later released on a compilation album.
The Never-Before-Released Masters

Album[edit]

Singles[edit]

  • 1968: "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)

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Death and Life of a Dream Girl Ebony Feb 1990 p. 164.
  2. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2005). The Supremes. In Allmusic. Ann Arbor, MI: All Media Guide.
  3. ^ a b c Rivera 2001, p. 16.
  4. ^ a b c d Benjaminson 2009, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Benjaminson 2009, p. 2.
  6. ^ Benjaminson 2009, pp. 2-3.
  7. ^ Benjaminson 2009, p. 3.
  8. ^ Benjaminson 2009, p. 13.
  9. ^ Wilson 1986, p. 29.
  10. ^ a b Wilson 1986, p. 30.
  11. ^ Wilson 1986, p. 31.
  12. ^ Wilson 1986, pp. 53-56.
  13. ^ Benjaminson 2009, pp. 22-23.
  14. ^ Wilson 1986, pp. 65-66.
  15. ^ Wilson 1986, p. 66.
  16. ^ a b Wilson 1986, p. 49.
  17. ^ Benjaminson 2009, pp. 21-23.
  18. ^ Wilson 1986, p. 50-51.
  19. ^ Benjaminson 2009, p. 24.
  20. ^ Benjaminson 2009, p. 25.
  21. ^ Wilson 1986, pp. 84-85.
  22. ^ Benjaminson 2009, p. 27.
  23. ^ Wilson 1986, pp. 141-143.
  24. ^ Wilson 1986, p. 166.
  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^ a b c d Unsung: Florence Ballard, TV One, 2010
  27. ^ Adrahtas 2011, p. 296.
  28. ^ Ribowsky, Mark (2009). The Supremes: A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success, and Betrayal. Da Capo Press ISBN 978-0-306-81586-7, pg. 283-294
  29. ^ Florence Ballard dead at 32; Original Member of Supremes New York Times
  30. ^ a b Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 285. CN 5585. 
  31. ^ Find a grave, Detroit Memorial Park East.
  32. ^ O'Niel, Tom. "Diana's 'Dreamgirls' decision". TheEnvelope.com. Retrieved on May 18, 2010.

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]