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|Florence "Flo" Ballard|
Ballard in a promotional poster for ABC Records in 1968.
|Birth name||Florence Glenda Ballard|
|Also known as||Florence Chapman|
|Born||June 30, 1943|
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|Died||February 22, 1976
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Genres||R&B, rock, pop, soul, show tunes|
|Labels||Lu Pine, Motown, ABC|
|Associated acts||The Primettes, The Supremes, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson|
Florence Glenda Ballard Chapman (June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976) was an American singer and a founding member of the Motown group The Supremes. From 1963 until 1967, Ballard sang on 16 Top 40 hit Supremes' singles, ten of which hit number-one on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1967, Motown CEO Berry Gordy decided to remove Ballard from the Supremes. After being dropped from the group, Ballard struggled with a solo career in the late 1960s and spent much of the last five years of her life in relative poverty. In 1976, Ballard died of cardiac arrest at the age of thirty-two. Her death has been called "one of rock's greatest tragedies".
Florence Ballard was born in Detroit in 1943. The ninth of fifteen children, Ballard's parents Lurlee (née Wilson) and Jessie Lambert Ballard had migrated from Rosetta, Mississippi, to participate in Detroit's then booming job market. Jessie Ballard eventually found work at General Motors but still struggled to take care of his growing brood. The Ballards moved constantly around Detroit, living in 7 Mile for a brief time and then living at the Black Bottom projects. Ballard's family eventually settled at the then-newly developed Brewster-Douglass housing projects by the time Ballard was fifteen.
Ballard's cousin was rock and roll and soul music pioneer Hank Ballard. Ballard began singing in church at an early age. Ballard, often called "Flo" by family and friends, also acquired the nickname "Blondie" due to her light auburn hair and fair complexion that reflected her mixed heritage. In 1958, Ballard met Mary Wilson and became acquainted with her after they participated in the same talent competition.
Milton Jenkins, a local man then best known for his work with the all-male group the Primes (who became The Temptations), was scouting for girls to become members of his group's sister act, the Primettes. Jenkins took an interest in Ballard's voice after Ballard auditioned for him and Primes members Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. Jenkins recruited Ballard as the first member of the Primettes and asked her to enlist other members. Immediately Ballard convinced Mary Wilson to join the group; Wilson then contacted fellow neighbor Diana Ross. Eighteen-year-old Betty McGlown, who was dating Paul Williams at the time, rounded out the quartet. In 1960, McGlown left and was replaced by Barbara Martin. Martin eventually left in 1962, and the group decided to remain a trio.
Described by Wilson and friend Jesse Greer as having been a generally happy if somewhat mischievous and sassy teenager, Ballard experienced a change in personality, from which she seemingly never recovered, 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, 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—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.
During their brief tenure as the Primettes, the group did not have a designated lead singer and sometimes sang in unison. While signed to local Lupine Records, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson sang lead on the group's only 45 on that label, "Tears of Sorrow"/"Pretty Baby" though Ballard added a soprano whoop at the beginning of the latter track. Ballard and Ross co-wrote "Tears of Sorrow". Onstage, mainly Ballard, Ross and Wilson switched lead roles. After a couple years performing at sock hops and jubilees, the group signed with the Motown label as The Supremes, a name chosen by Ballard, on January 15, 1961.
While Ross sang lead on the group's debut recording, "I Want a Guy", seventeen-year-old Ballard performed lead vocals on the second 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. During this period, Ballard also briefly toured with The Marvelettes as a replacement for Wanda Young, who was out on maternity leave. Marvelettes lead singer Gladys Horton later recounted Ballard gave Horton advice before Horton went into the studio to record "Please Mr. Postman".
Though Ballard's voice has been described as "soulful, big, rich, and commanding", ranging from deep contralto to operatic soprano, Ross was made lead singer of the Supremes in late 1963. 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 Ballard 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 insisted that Ross sing the song. Soon afterwards, 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.
In August 1967, the Detroit Free Press reported that Ballard was taking a temporary leave of absence from the group because of "exhaustion." Ballard's career as a performing Supreme was over.
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.
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 later fired and sued 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. The catalogs of both Motown and ABC are now owned by Universal Music Group, with Motown still being an active part of the company as Universal Motown. The ABC label was shuttered in 1979, with its artists and catalog transferred to MCA Records, and then Geffen Records.
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.
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 did join them, 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.
In 1975, Ballard received an insurance settlement from her former attorney's insurance company. With the settlement money, Ballard purchased a small house on Shaftsbury Avenue in Detroit for herself and her children and made a decision to return to singing. Around this same time, she also reconciled with her estranged husband.
Backed by the female rock group The Deadly Nightshade, Ballard performed as a part of the Joan Little Defense League at a concert held at Detroit's Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium on June 25, 1975. Following the success of this performance, Ballard received requests for newspaper and television interviews, including an appearance on the local Detroit talk show The David Diles Show.
On February 21, 1976, Ballard entered Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital, complaining of numbness in her extremities. The next day, she died at 10:05 a.m. from cardiac arrest, caused by a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in one of her coronary arteries), at the age of 32.
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. 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.
|1959||"Pretty Baby"||The Supremes Box Set|
||Meet The Supremes|
|1962||"Let Me Go the Right Way"|
||The Supremes Box Set|
|"Save Me a Star"
||The Never-Before-Released Masters|
||The Supreme Florence "Flo" Ballard|
|1963||A Breathtaking Guy
||Where Did Our Love Go|
|1964||"Long Gone Lover"
|"How Do You Do It?"
||A Bit of Liverpool|
|"I Saw Him Standing There"
||Let The Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960-1969 (Motown's Lost & Found)|
|"Not Fade Away"
|1965||"It Makes No Difference Now"
||The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop|
|"(Ain't That) Good News"
||We Remember Sam Cooke|
|"O Holy Night"
||A Motown Christmas, Volume 2|
||There's A Place For Us|
||The Never-Before-Released Masters|
||The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart|
|"The Ballad of Davy Crockett"
||The Never-Before-Released Masters|
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. Please improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (February 2010)|
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