DARYL EASLEA's concise record of this rise to fame and glory is profusely illustrated with archive images and long lost publicity shots, which bring to life the heady days of an effervescent, nascent pop world which turned dreams to reality for many unknown talents. Included are previously unseen images by doyen music biz snapper, Harry Goodwin.
The Supremes were originally known as The Primettes, a quartet created in 1959 as a sister act to The Primes (later to become the Temptations) by their manager, Milton Jenkins. Down the line, and reduced to a trio, the girls (Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diane Ross) were introduced to Berry Gordy by Smokey Robinson of the Miracles. In 1961, after much procrastination, Gordy signed them to Motown on the understanding that they would change their name - he gave Ballard, as the group's founder, a list and she selected The Supremes.
Between 1961 and 1963 the girls failed to make an impact with the eight singles they issued, but in late 1963, Lovelight reached 23 on the Billboard chart and Gordy, deciding Diane Ross' voice was more accessible to a white audience, made her the group leader. He also changed her name to Diana. In the summer of '64, Where did Our Love Go hit the number one slot in the US pop charts and number three in the UK. The next release, Baby Love, hit the top slot in both the USA and UK - it was the start of an avalanche with twelve US No. 1 hits, numerous top 40 entries, regular live and television performances and record sales of over 20 million. The Supremes were not only the most successful pop trio of the Sixties, but arguably the greatest girl group in musical history.
Gordy deliberately wanted a group that would appeal to the prime white audience. The Supremes were ultra-feminine, sexy and stylish in a supper club sort of way. Highly televisual, their fan base was mainstream and predominantly white. It couldn't last. Gordy's romantic ties with Ross caused the trio to be renamed Diana Ross & The Supremes, effectively ousting the founder, Florence Ballard. This in turn led to a sad downward spiral for the lovely singer, who died in poverty following years of depression in 1976 at only 32 years of age.
After numerous changes of personnel, the group released their final hit Someday We'll be Together in 1969 (effectively Ross' first hit of a solo career). It topped the US charts and was, actually, the last number one of the infamous Swingin' Sixties. Over in the UK, the three girls had a fanatical following.
The legendary photographer Harry Goodwin got his start in celebrity images in 1964 at the age of 40, when the BBC launched its flagship pop show, Top of the Pops, in Harry's hometown of Manchester. At the specific invitation of Johnny Stewart, unsung hero of many careers, Harry continued as resident snapper until the 1970s. The Rushholme ToTP studios (later relocated to London) would duly host the greatest names in the history of pop music and Goodwin was on hand to record their visit. In the early days, for various complex reasons, stills had to be used for items like the chart countdown, and Goodwin's pictures became an essential part of the artist's all important image. Now in his 80s and retired, his rock archive is the source of constant media interest - although his own heroes are all from the world of sports.
The Mary Wilson Collection is at the V&A Museum, London 13-May-19 October 2008.