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The Supremes : A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success, and Betrayal
Drawing on intimate recollections from friends, family, and Motown contemporaries, Mark Ribowsky charts the Supremes' meteoric rise and bitter disintegration. He sheds light on Diana Ross's relationship with Berry Gordy and her cutthroat rise to top billing in the group, as well as Florence Ballard's corresponding decline. He also takes us inside the studio, examining how timeless classics were conceived and recorded on the Motown "assembly line," and considers the place of Motown in an era of cultural upheaval, when not being "black enough" became a fierce denunciation within the black music industry. Deftly combining personal testimony, history, and expert analysis, Ribowsky not only tells the full, heartbreaking story of the Supremes, but shows why Gordy's revolutionary concept of "blacks singing white" was essential to the modern evolution of music.
Biographer of Phil Spector (He's a Rebel), among others, Ribowsky takes a dishy, insider look at Berry Gordy's making of the Supremes, with some nasty swipes at Diana Ross while elevating Flo Ballard as the trio's martyr. In his detailed look at how Berry engineered his Motown empire, thanks to his smart sisters and a lot of luck and fortuitous pairing of talent, Ribowsky nicely intersperses some hindsight reflections by the main players, such as the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland of the legendary songwriting team with Lamont Dozier, with comparative accounts by Mary Wilson, Ross and others in order to sift the truth from the legend. While the author constantly snipes at Ross for her popping eyes and naked ambition, it was largely her single-minded drive that garnered attention to the trio's early incarnation as the Primettes, and her high girl-woman singing voice that established the Supremes' distinctive sound. Moreover, Ross's influence on Gordy (and his faith in her future solo stardom) motivated him to keep pushing the group into the limelight, in spite of other girl groups that had a bigger top hit following, such as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. In this engaging, vivacious account, Ribowsky energetically and thoroughly underscores the Supremes' significance as one of the first crossover successes. (July)
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Da Capo Press
June 28, 2009
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