Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on May 30, 1976 · Page 84
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 84

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 30, 1976
Page 84
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Page 84 article text (OCR)

Florence Bollard: Sad story of one 'Supreme' By Peter Vert _. DETROIT (AP)--They grew up together in the same bleak housing project of tired brick, scurrying rats, shattered glass and numbing debris. Their singing, their harmony cried out; from church basements on hot summer nights, a hunger yearning to be heard. And they finally made it big, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, three black girls with a pulsating style that seemed to .. writhe out of their synchronous movements, at once sexy and schoolgirlish. \ They were called the Supremes, and the record promoters made the most of them. Eight of their songs sold more than a million copies and grossed millions'of dollars. Much less trickled down to the girls. They were chaperoned constantly on the road, wore identical dia- ,. mond rings to discourage men, always dressed alike on street or stage, wore the same wigs, spent lonely and boring hours together in one hotel suite after another. But within each, there was a yearning for individual fame. '', ; v One of them, Diana Ross, made it big as a singer and movie actress in her own right. One, Mary Wilson, is still with the singing group, which is no longer as famous as it was And one of them, Flo Ballard is dead. _vv, , if ' ~* -. For Flo BaUard/so rapid was her rise to success ua Supreme and a star at 24'to hefJall to poverty and death eight years later, that she could not understand it. "It's like living a nightmare," she toM her sister Pat. H^ "How would jou feel-if one itay : ; you were a millionaire and the next day you were broke'" She did the things she wanted to do She helped support her 10 brothers and sisters She bought herself and her husband a home, and that was a symbol of success. There were three children, twins Michelle and Nicole, now 7, and Lisa, 3. Then she lost her marriage, and finally her home. And she turned to her despair, and asked, "Why my home? Why cpuldn'_t I haveatleastkeptmyhome?" ,,Flo Ballard finally sought psychiatric caj^ because of recurring de: pressiohs:arid a/state of anxiety, some .(j£it; '#» fesult of lawsuits. She took :tranquilizers and later pills to combat high blood pressure, more pills-to .help her lose .the weight that had destroyed her once "Mourners" piclr flower mementos from the graveside of Florence Ballard, a one-time "Supreme." who interviewed them, almost everything was designed'** 1 , them. They were choreographed on a constantly moving style like cheerleaders.-They were not allowed to dress as they wished. On tour they were allowed little personal free- dome Flo had reached the llth grade before she was swept up in the music business. She never handled her own finances. She was on an allowance. It could notlast. Diana Ross was .the supreme Supreme. The name was changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes.:''Diana was being groomed for i movie career, which eventually led to her leading roles as BilUe Holliday in Lady Sing* The B/ue«," and as a model in "Mahogany. Tte had other things in store forFto: : . · "·'; Mary;Wilson remains the mainstay of the new Supremes The breakup came one night in Las Vegas. Flo's subsequent depositions in court- tell her side of the story. Gordy, the record company president, had been trying to get her to cut down on her drinking. She said she may have been drinking more than Diana or Mary, but not enough to affect her performance. Then, one morning after an appearance at the Flamingo Hotel, Gordy told her she was through, Flo said. Drinking was given as the reason. She said she told him she would not leave, and he told her, "I would be thrown off stage if I went on." . ; ··.-· · She said she knew Gordy was grooming Cindy Birdsphg-to" take her place. "It seemed like I wasn't needed anymore. Berry Gordy used to say,.'You're ai millioriarie at 24^-you can leave anytime now.'" Then,she^wentbn welfare.''That really hurt her Ipridli" her sister- recalls. i^W.tien ; silV : tKi8 bfgkn to _ ,, Happen, she wouldn't sing. For · '' years I didn't hear her sing a note.'' And finally^ a.t-:age 32, Flo Ballard, having tasted success and failure, died last Feb. 22. A record industry friend called it, "a tragedy of profound proportions. No one realizes what really happened." To her mother, Lurlee, "She died of a broken heart. She was always unhappy." In those early years with Diana and Mary, she wasn't unhappy. They were still teen-agers" when they signed a recording contract with a struggling new company, Motown Record Corp., and its president, Berry Gordy Jr. : Gordy guided their careers while a talented songwritirig and production team-oof Bryan Holland, Lamont Dozier and lyricist Eddie Holland provided material designed I for them · - r * *' · : ·'"'.·'-'''· '''? ; '". v'L Indeed'.-said'one: record critic'« ALUMINUM SIDING Gordy will not Ulk publicly about the incident. But one former Motown official said, "She was not bitter. I feel she was incapable of bitterness. Disillusionment, yes. Disappointment, yes. Bitterness, no." After the automated road to success, the closeness with Diana and Mary, Flo was left adrift. No longer would Mary kid her with "Flo, she don't know," a line from one of their songs. No longer would she share their close daily compion- ship. All she had known was high school and then success, and nothing. She had dated Gordy's chauffeur, Tommy Chapman, while she was with the group, and seven months after she left they were married. Her new husband became her manager. She won a contract with ABC Records, but,it was never the same. She recorded about two dozen songs, but the material was not the Supreme kind. She was singing songs like, /mpotiib/e Dream from Man From LaJtfdncna. They flopped. . "I think they-The ABC officials-thought they were'getting a Supreme sound when they signed the contract," said Cynthia Sissle, another ABC executive. "They didn't have a Supremes singer. They had a good ballad singer." In 1969, the year Diana left the Su- premes to launch her movie career, Florence became enmeshed in a .six-year legal battle with a former attorney. The fight tied up the money she bad won in an earlier settlement of $160,000 with Mo- from which she did not escape until six months before her death. An o»t-of-court settlement brightened her last days. "She had a great Christmas," her sister Pat recalls, "She bought all kinds of toys for the children. It was the first nice Christmas she had had in years." It was not the only good thing to happen to Flo. Diana Ross visited whenever she came to Detroit. Fto and Tommy were reconciled and Flo made two public appearances, singing, and that seemed to brighten her spirits temporarily. But, although her life had improved, her health had not. Less than two days before her death, she phoned her mother at 3:30 in the morning. "She said she had been having a shortness of breath . . . I asked how long this had been going on. She said for a pretty good while. She said she hadn't told me sooner because she didn't want me to worry. Then she said that If anything happened to her she wanted me to cont. on 20m Toi TKEASY.ttXKNSNEWAY TOMSTAU HKnTHMK RAILS I We're eicluu'vt local dealen far the raiy-fo-uie I I Diamond Slip-On Finings. 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