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Florence "Flo" Ballard

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

Florence Glenda Ballard Chapman (June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976), nicknamed "Flo" and "Blondie", was an American singer, and one of the original founders of the Motown group The Supremes.

During their early years, members of The Supremes (originally called The Primettes) enjoyed a generally democratic distribution of leads on songs. However, by 1966, Ballard and Mary Wilson had begun to feel ignored in the group as Motown President Berry Gordy, Jr. spotlighted Diana Ross's individual career. Consequent discontent led Ballard to chronic depression and alcoholism, factors that weighed heavily in Gordy's decision to permanently dismiss Ballard from The Supremes in July 1967. Her replacement was former Bluebelle Cindy Birdsong.

After an unsuccessful attempt at a solo career in the late 1960s, Ballard spent much of the last five years of her life in relative poverty, attempting to avoid media attention while suing the various parties involved in her dismissal from Motown. By the mid-1970s, it appeared that Ballard had regained control of her mental and emotional health - making public appearances, doing interviews and featured in newspaper articles, she purchased a new home after receiving a sizable settlement from attorneys she said had cheated her. Around this time, Ballard also began receiving treatment for her alcoholism and reconciled with estranged husband Tommy Chapman. She started to perform again in 1975, and during the latter part of the year was considering several offers for recording contracts.

In 1976, Ballard died of cardiac arrest at the age of thirty-two.[1] Her death has been called "one of rock's greatest tragedies".[2]

Contents

Early life

Ballard was born in Detroit, Michigan (although many sources incorrectly state her birthplace as Rosetta, Mississippi) to Mississippians Jessie Ballard and his wife, Lurlee Wilson. Jessie Ballard had been born Jessie Lambert, but had been adopted by a family named Ballard and taken their name. Sometime in the late 1930s or early '40s, Jessie Ballard moved his wife and children to Detroit in hopes of a better life and in order to participate in the booming job market. In the industrial city, he found work at General Motors.

Florence, whom friends and family often called "Flo," was the ninth of fifteen children. Smart, low-key and tomboyish, she developed a love of music at an early age thanks in large part to her father's passion for the box-string guitar. Prone to singing with her family and belting songs from her open bedroom window at night, she was encouraged by relatives and neighbors to pursue her interest in singing. Soon she was singing solo at churches and other functions in addition to taking music classes in school. Nicknamed "Blondie" because of the soft auburn hair and fair complexion that reflected her mixed African American, Native American and European American heritage, Ballard was noticed in the neighborhood by local youth Mary Wilson, with whom she would establish a close friendship after they performed in the same talent competition.

Milton Jenkins, a local man then best known for his work with the promising all-male group The Primes (who would become The Temptations), took an interest in Ballard's voice. In 1959, Jenkins arranged an audition for Ballard before The Primes's Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. Impressed by Ballard's polished performance, Jenkins decided The Primes would have a sister group called The Primettes, of which Ballard and Williams' girlfriend, Betty McGlown, would be the first members. Ballard and Wilson had promised to remember one another if either had landed a spot in a singing group, and Ballard did not forget her promise; shortly thereafter, Ballard invited Wilson to join The Primettes. Wilson gladly accepted. Diana Ross was mentioned by Paul Williams and the group enlisted her. In 1960 McGlown was replaced by Detroit teenager Barbara Martin; in early 1962, Martin left the group to start a family.

Described by Wilson and friend Jesse Greer as having been a generally happy if not somewhat mischievous and sassy teenager, Ballard experienced a change in personality from which she would seemingly never recover as the result of an incident that occurred in the summer of 1960. Leaving a sock hop at Detroit's Graystone Ballroom one evening, Ballard accidentally was separated from her brother Billy, with whom she had attended the event. Accepting a ride home from a young man she felt she recognized, local high-school basketball player Reginald Harding[3], Ballard was instead driven north to an empty parking lot off of Woodward Avenue. There, Harding raped Ballard at knife point.

After weeks of sequestered silence that confused Wilson and Ross, Ballard finally told her groupmates what had happened to her. The girls were sympathetic but as confused as Ballard herself, whom they had considered strong-willed and unflappable. Consequently, Ballard's assault was never mentioned again, either in clinical therapy or in social conversation[4] - something that Wilson believes heavily contributed to the more self-destructive aspects of Ballard's adult personality, such as her cynicism, pessimism, and fear or mistrust of others.

The Supremes (1959-1967)

Ballard, Ross, Wilson, and Martin shared leads on the Primettes' songs, and performed in local venues around the Detroit area. The Primettes signed with the Motown label as The Supremes, a name chosen by Ballard, on January 15, 1961. The group became a trio when Martin left a little over a year later.

In the early days of The Supremes, all three girls took turns singing lead vocals. Ballard sang lead on the second Supremes single, "Buttered Popcorn." According to Wilson, Ballard's voice was so loud that she was made to stand up to seventeen feet away from her microphone during recording sessions, while the other two Supremes stood directly in front of their microphones.[5] During this period, Ballard also briefly toured with The Marvelettes as a replacement for Wanda Young, who was out on maternity leave.

Though Florence's voice has been described as "soulful, big, rich, and commanding" ranging from deep Contralto to operatic Soprano[6], Ross was made lead singer of the Supremes in late 1963, as Motown CEO Berry Gordy believed that Ross' voice, with its lighter, nasal quality, would help the group cross over to white audiences. Assigned to work with songwriting/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, Ross, Ballard, and Wilson subsequently released ten number-one US pop hits between 1964 and 1967, all of which featured Ross as lead.

Ballard never again sang lead on another released 45, but she had several leads and lead parts throughout her Supreme career on Supremes albums. Most notable are the second verse of "It Makes No Difference Now" from The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop, "Ain't That Good News" from We Remember Sam Cooke plus a few later released Christmas songs, "Silent Night" and "O'Holy Night." Wilson was also given the lead on a song on their debut album; a song on the A'Go Go album; and a partial lead with Ross on "Falling in Love with Love" on the Supremes Sing Rogers and Hart album, while Florence and Ross traded leads on "Manhattan" on the same album. Initially Ballard continued to sing a spotlight solo number, "People" from the Broadway musical Funny Girl, for the Supremes' stage show. In 1966, just prior to opening at the Copacabana supper club in New York City, Ballard complained of a sore throat and asked that she not rehearse "People" to save her voice for the performance. Gordy assigned "People" to Ross. Thus began a marked decline in effective communication between Gordy and Ballard.

Over the next two years, Ballard and Gordy argued frequently, particularly as Ross became the group's centerpiece.

During the first half of 1967, Gordy decided that he would be changing the group's name to Diana Ross and The Supremes. As the year progressed, Ballard frequently missed public appearances; and sometimes missed recording sessions as well. Gordy hired Cindy Birdsong, a singer with Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles, as a temporary stand-in for Ballard in April 1967. By May, it was agreed that Birdsong would become Ballard's permanent replacement, but Ballard could continue to perform with the Supremes on a "trial" basis. Ballard's final performance with the group was in late June/early July 1967 during their second engagement at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. After Ballard unexpectedly stuck out her stomach from between the jacket and pants of her outfit during scripted onstage patter in the first show of the night, Gordy was outraged. He ordered her not to go onstage for the next show and instructed her to take the next plane home to Detroit. Ballard's career as a performing Supreme was over.

Solo career

Ballard married Thomas Chapman, a former chauffeur for Motown, on February 29, 1968, and signed with ABC Records in March 1968, two weeks after having negotiated her release from Motown on February 22, 1968. Ballard's attorney received a one-time payment of $139,804.94 in royalties and earnings from Motown for her six-year tenure with the label.[7]

Billed as "Florence 'Flo' Ballard" and with her husband serving as her manager, Ballard released the singles "It Doesn't Matter How I Say It (It's What I Say That Matters)" and "Love Ain't Love" on ABC Records. The singles failed to chart, and Ballard's album for ABC was shelved. Thus, her musical career went into a rapid decline, and the $139,000 in settlement money was systematically depleted by the Chapmans' management agency, Talent Management, Inc. This agency, created by lawyers who had no previous experience in show business, was headed by Leonard Baun, an attorney Ballard would later fire and sue upon discovering he was already facing multiple charges of embezzlement. Furthermore, stipulations in Ballard's contract with Motown prohibited Ballard from mentioning in any promotional materials or noting on the back of her album liner that she had ever been in the Supremes or recorded for Motown.

Ballard continued her efforts at a solo career. In September 1968, she performed alongside Bill Cosby at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. That same year, Ballard rode on a float in that city's Bud Billiken Parade with comedian Godfrey Cambridge. On October 20, 1968, she was the featured personality of Detroit's magazine, Detroit and that same month, she gave birth to twin girls, Michelle Chapman and Nicole Chapman, the first two of her three children. She began the new year by performing at one of Richard Nixon's inaugural balls in Washington, DC on January 20, 1969. In 1971, Ballard unsuccessfully sued Motown for additional royalty payments she believed were due.

Decline

In 1971, Ballard gave birth to her third child, Lisa Chapman. Soon after, Thomas Chapman left Ballard and her house was foreclosed.

Over the next few years, Ballard stayed away from all publicity. In 1974, Mary Wilson, who had maintained a rapport with Ballard over the years, invited Ballard to fly out to California to visit. The Supremes, with Cindy Birdsong and new member Scherrie Payne, were performing at Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Wilson invited Ballard on-stage to sing with the group. Ballard joined them on stage, but did not sing: instead, she played the tambourine. Although her on-stage appearance brought loud cheers from the crowd, Ballard told Wilson that she had no interest in continuing a career in music.

Upon her return to Detroit, Ballard's financial situation declined further. Uninterested in returning to show business, and with three children to support, she applied for welfare. This news and the story of her downward spiral hit the national newspapers.


Ballard is buried in Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery located in Warren, Michigan.[8] Motown head Berry Gordy paid for the funeral. In the years following Florence Ballard's death, Diana Ross established trust funds in the names of each of Ballard's three children. In 2008, it was reported that Ballard's daughters were still living in Detroit on welfare, that their trust funds were $10,000 for each daughter, and that the funds were gone by the time the girls became of age.

Discography

Lead vocals with The Supremes

"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 and repeats her operatic part in the break of the song.

"Buttered Popcorn" - Only Supremes a-side to feature Florence on lead

"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

These songs were not on the original release of Meet The Supremes but recorded in the same sessions and have all now been released feature:

"After All" - (included on the 2000 The Supremes' Box Set) features all members leading a verse, including fourth member Barbara Martin, with Ballard leading the first

"Hey Baby" - The Supreme Florence Ballard - alternate version can be found on "Diana Ross & The Supremes - Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Motown's Lost & Found)"

"Heavenly Father" - The Supreme Florence Ballard

"Save Me A Star" - The Never-Before-Released Masters

"A Breathtaking Guy" - released as a single, it features each member leading one line of the chorus though Ross leads all the verses

"Long Gone Lover" - Ballard leads the outro

"Baby Love" - Ross leads but Ballard & Wilson each has 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.

"I Saw Him Standing There" - not featured on the original release but can be found on "Diana Ross & The Supremes - Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Motown's Lost & Found)"

"Not Fade Away" - a group lead with harmonies throughout but with Ballard most prominent, also on The Supremes Lost & Found

"It Makes No Difference Now" - all members lead a verse with Ballard leading the second

"(Ain't That) Good News" - One of Flo's most notable leads from the group's tribute album to 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"

"Oh Holy Night" - not on original release or re-releases of the album but is featured on "A Motown Christmas, Volume 2"

"People" - Ballard leads the show-tune made popular by Barbra Streisand. Ross does get a verse towards the end but Ballard leads most of the song

"Fancy Passes" -Ross leads but Ballard & Wilson each are featured on some spoken lines (and a few brief solos) in this original number.

"Manhattan" - not featured on the original release but has been featured on re-releases of the album - Lead mostly by Ross but Ballard is featured prominently - can also be found on "Diana Ross & the Supremes' 25th Anniversary"

  • Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing Disney Classics - 1967 (shelved)

"The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" - Ballard does a spoken part while Wilson sings lead on the rest of the song - can be found on "Diana Ross & The Supremes: The Never Before Released Masters"

Album

Singles

  • 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

  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. ^ Benjaminson, Peter. The Lost Supreme: the Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2008. 22-23.
  4. ^ Wilson, Mary (1986). "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme", pg. 65-66
  5. ^ Wilson, Mary (1986). "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme", pg. 166
  6. ^ http://www.blackamericaweb.com/?q=articles/entertainment/blak_music_month/10466
  7. ^ http://www.freep.com/motownat40/archives/102971mo.htm Freep.com Retrieved on 05-10-07
  8. ^ Find a grave, Detroit Memorial Park East.

Sources

  • Wilson, Mary and Romanowski, Patricia (1986, 1990, 2000). Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith: My Life as a Supreme. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. ISBN 0-8154-1000-X.
  • Taraborrelli, J. Randy (2007) Diana: A Biography

External links


Simple English

Florence Glenda Ballard Chapman (June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976), is an American singer and one of the founders of The Supremes.








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