Florence Ballard (June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976)
Florence Glenda Ballard was a founding member of the Motown female group,
the Supremes. She had 16 top 40
singles, including 10 #1 hits!
Ballard was born in Detroit, Michigan
and was the 8th of 13 children. Her
father encouraged her interest in singing. Ballard met Mary Wilson (another founding member of the Supremes) during a middle school talent show. They remained friends through high school. Their first foray into a “professional” music gig was in the sister group, The Primes. Ballard was the first to win a spot. She brought in Wilson and Wilson brought in her neighbor, Diana Ross. They soon changed their name to the Primettes and won an audition for Motown in 1960. Motown founder Berry Gordy suggested the girls graduate high school then audition again. Ballard ended up dropping out of school, but the others did graduate.
Late in 1960, the Primettes signed with Lu Pine Records, Refusing to give up on their Motown dream, they relentlessly pursued Gordy until he relented and let them record songs in a Motown studio. This was achieved by the end of 1960. In January 1961, Gordy signed them and the Supremes were born — and officially named. Initially, the Supremes struggled to find a hit, which they finally achieved in 1963, with When the Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes. In the spring of 1964, the girls had their first #1 hit, Where Did Our Love Go. During their live shows, Wilson recalled that Ballard’s voice was so loud they made her stand 17 feet away from the microphone.
Ballard quickly became dissatisfied with the group’s direction once they began to achieve superstardom. As she struggled to cope with the label demands, Ballard became depressed. She quickly turned to alcohol to cope. The alcohol led to arguments between the girls, then she began to miss shows and recording sessions. In July 1967, Gordy ordered Ballard to return to Detroit; her career with the Supremes was over.
In February 1968, she married Thomas Chapman. In March 1968, she signed to ABC Records and released two unsuccessful solo singles. The album they were intended to be from was shelved. In October 1968 she gave birth to twins Michelle and Nicole. She was officially dropped from ABC in 1970.
In July 1971, she sued Motown for additional royalty payments. She lost. Though that same year she gave birth of another daughter Lisa, she and Chapman separated after several domestic disputes. Ballard’s house was foreclosed. Now, adding poverty to her depression and alcoholism, Ballard retreated from the public eye. In 1974, Wilson asked Ballard to rejoin the Supremes. She did to play the tambourine, refusing to sing again. The press caught wind of her struggles and Ballard entered rehab. Her life seemed to rebound. She reconciled with Chapman and started singing again.
On February 21, 1976, Ballard checked into a Detroit hospital with a numbness in her extremities. She died the next morning from cardiac arrest caused by a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in a coronary artery). Ballard was only 32 years old. In 1998, Ballard was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes.