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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard

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Overview

In the months before she died, Florence Ballard, the spunky teenager who founded the most successful female vocal group in history—the Supremes—told her own side of the story. Recorded on tape, Flo shed light on all areas of her life, including the surprising identity of the man by whom she was raped prior to her entering the music business, the details of her love-hate relationship with Motown Records czar Berry Gordy, her drinking problem and pleas for help, a never-ending desire to be the Supremes’ lead ...

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The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard

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Overview

In the months before she died, Florence Ballard, the spunky teenager who founded the most successful female vocal group in history—the Supremes—told her own side of the story. Recorded on tape, Flo shed light on all areas of her life, including the surprising identity of the man by whom she was raped prior to her entering the music business, the details of her love-hate relationship with Motown Records czar Berry Gordy, her drinking problem and pleas for help, a never-ending desire to be the Supremes’ lead singer, and her attempts to get her life back on track after being brutally expelled from the group. This is a tumultuous and heartbreaking story of a world-famous performer whose life ended at the age of 32 as a lonely mother of three who had only recently recovered from years of poverty and despair.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Flo Ballard’s remarkable story is a personal Greek tragedy. In his wonderful The Lost Supreme, Peter Benjaminson tells it masterfully, with all the drama and empathy her life deserves. In Benjaminson’s talented hands, Flo Ballard earns the lasting stardom she was deprived of in life."  —Gerald Posner, author, Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power

“Get to know the real Flo, from the beginning to the end. A must read.”  —Otis Williams, the Temptations

“Peter Benjaminson has done a stellar job in capturing [Florence Ballard] and telling her story. Florence deserved a biographer with the skill and talent of Benjaminson. If this book were a record, it would top the charts.”  —Al Abrams, publicity director, Motown Records, 1964–1966

“Provides details Ballard wouldn’t or couldn’t discuss.”  —Onion

Otis Williams
Get to know the real Flo, from the beginning to the end. A must read. (Otis Williams, The Temptations)
Al Abrams
Florence deserved a biographer with Benjaminson's skill and talent. . . . If this book were a record it would top the charts. (Al Abrams, publicity director, Motown Records, 1964-66)
Greil Marcus
What a reader may take away from this book is a new understanding of how cruel the American promise of success can be. (Greil Marcus, author, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads)
Publishers Weekly

Journalist and author Benjaminson (The Story of Motown) attempts valiantly, painstakingly to resurrect the reputation of founding Supreme member Florence Ballard, who left the group early on and descended into litigiousness and alcoholism. Then a reporter with the Detroit Free Press, Benjaminson interviewed Ballard a year before her death in 1976 and elicited a sad story of a starry-eyed, single-minded high school dropout whose dream, and fortune, was co-opted by Berry Gordy's Motown empire. Growing up together in Detroit's black working-class Brewster Projects, gospel-singing Ballard and Mary Wilson first formed the Primettes, joined by Diane (as she was then known) Ross and Betty McGlown, who eventually dropped out. In 1961, the teenagers auditioned for Berry Gordy, who kept them doing backup as they matured, touring with the Motortown Review across country by bus until the newly configured Supremes (Ballard chose the name) had their first hit in 1964 with "Where Did Our Love Go?" The boom-boom beat coupled with the nasaly sound of Ross's voice prompted Gordy to promote Ross rather than Ballard as lead. Over the Supremes' several heady years in the spotlight, Benjaminson explains in this engaging biography, gobs of money vanished through flimsy contracts and the fingers of unscrupulous managers, costly clothes and glamorous acquaintances, and Ballard's resentment of Ross's ambition and Gordy's manipulation got her fired. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Motown Records launched the careers of many black recording artists. One of the most beloved groups was the Supremes, with Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. Contrary to popular belief, Ballard was the founder of the group; however, at the time of her death, she was unemployed, broke, and on welfare, never able to recover her career after being fired from the group. Her constant battles with Motown owner Berry Gordy, Ross, and her lawyers caused financial and emotional ruin. Although there are many available books on the Supremes, this one concentrates on Ballard's life before, during, and after her rise to fame; former reporter Benjaminson (The Story of Motown) gathered information from Ballard herself shortly before she died. His style is concise, coherent, and engaging. Readers who are familiar with the group and even those who are not will definitely enjoy this well-written biography. [The character of Effie White, played by Jennifer Hudson in the popular film adaptation of Dreamgirls, is based on Florence Ballard.-Ed.]
—Rosalind Dayen Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
A book-length portrait of the best singer in Motown's biggest group, delivered three decades after her death. Born in Detroit in 1943, Florence Ballard co-founded the Primettes in 1959 with Diana Ross and Mary Wilson. By 1960, they were working as background singers at Motown Records; when founder Berry Gordy insisted on a new name, Ballard chose the Supremes, and the rest was music history. But all was far from rosy. Ballard was haunted by memories of her rape by a family friend when she was 17; she could be difficult, and she refused to be the controlling Gordy's "puppet on a string." Around 1966, angered by all the attention focused on Ross, who made sure the boss liked her best, Ballard began hitting the bottle hard and was fired from the group the following year. Her post-Supremes solo career never took off, and by 1975, when the author was a reporter at the Detroit Free Press, she and her three children were on welfare. Benjaminson's article about her plight ran nationally, and he won Ballard's trust. She recounted her life to him in eight hours of interviews taped before she died in 1976. Benjaminson (Secret Police: Inside the New York City Department of Investigation, 1997, etc.) relies heavily on this material-indeed, at times it seems he reproduced the interviews in their entirety-but he works hard to place it in context and bring to light its natural narrative arc. He also read the relevant court documents, as well as dozens of books and magazines, and he interviewed Ballard's key surviving family members and Mary Wilson. The book sometimes gets bogged down in minutiae and windy song analysis, but Motown obsessives will appreciate the attention to detail, which doesn't detracttoo much from the final product. Pair this with Wilson's equally revealing autobiography Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme (1986), and you've got an unmatchable snapshot of the exhilarating yet often ugly 1960s soul music scene.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556529597
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 781,125
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Benjaminson is the author of Death in the Afternoon: America’s Newspaper Giants Struggle for Survival, Secret Police: Inside the New York City Department of Investigation, and The Story of Motown, and is the coauthor of Investigative Reporting. He is a former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Detroit Free Press. He lives in New York City.

Peter Benjaminson is the author of Death in the Afternoon: America’s Newspaper Giants Struggle for Survival, Secret Police: Inside the New York City Department of Investigation, and The Story of Motown, and is the coauthor of Investigative Reporting. He is a former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Detroit Free Press.

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Table of Contents

Preface: Flo and Me     xiii
Acknowledgments     xvii
Introduction: Founder and Soul Sister     xix
Detroit Is Where It's At     1
Generosity and Betrayal     9
Always a Bridesmaid     25
Roughing It     37
"Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom, Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom, Ba-by, Ba-by"     45
In Pursuit of False Gods     51
Supremes at the Summit     55
Room at the Top     67
Struggle Among the Stars     75
The Corner of Hollywood and Woodward     83
Trouble at the Top     87
After the Fall     99
"I Now Pronounce You"     107
Dashed Hopes     109
Fleeced Again     119
Bleak House     125
Friend or Foe?     129
Paranoid, Isolated, and Homeless     135
Three into Two Won't Go     141
Down, Down, Down and Out     145
Inside the Mental Ward     153
To Err Is Human     163
The Lost Supreme     167
Flo Sums It Up     171
Where's the Rest of Me?     173
Afterword: The Dreamgirls Resurrections     177
FlorenceBallard, Primettes, and Supremes Discography     181
Excerpts from Florence Ballard's Legal Case Against Motown Records et al.     185
Sources     201
Index     205
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 7, 2009

    Lost Supreme (Florence Ballard)

    It was good reading. To bad Diana Ross was so selfish in not helping her friend overcome some of her problems. Just maybe she would have survive.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    Very sad how Florence was treated by Motown and those around her

    Very sad how Florence was treated by Motown and those around her. Florence had the talent and the voice. She truly reins Supreme, Rest in peace Florence.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2012

    Florence Florence Florence ballard

    It was sad to see what florence was struggling with i just couldnt believe diana ross was that selfish and wouldnt help her its sad what such a nice woman had to go through...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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