Did you know that Florence Ballard was the first member of The Supremes and she also named the group?
Ballard was the first person recruited by Milton Jenkins in the late 1950s to join a group called The Primettes – the female version of The Primes, who would later change their name of their group to The Temptations. She then asked her friend Mary Wilson to join the band before they were subsequently joined by Diana Ross and Betty McGlown, the last of which was then replaced by Barbra Martin.
Eventually, Barbra Martin exited The Primettes and they became a trio. However, shortly before Martin’s exit, the group was signed to Motown Records and the label’s mastermind, Berry Gordy, insisted that they changed their name. As such, Ballard picked the title of The Supremes by pulling it out of a hat.
In 1967, Ballard and Gordy had a bitter feud regarding the direction of the group, which was now known as Diana Ross & the Supremes. Ballard claimed that he kept taunting her about her weight and during her final performance with the group, she lifted her top so that the audience could see her stomach. Gordy then fired her from the band and she was permanently replaced by Cindy Birdsong from Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles.
Sadly, Ballard was unable to mount a successful solo career after her time with The Supremes. Finally, while battling several financial and emotional issues, she died from cardiac arrest on February 22nd in 1976 at the age of 32 years.
Listen to Ballard’s cover of Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual’ below: