Florence Ballard Chapman was one of the founding members of the female-singing group, ‘The Supremes’. She was well-known for her deep, rich and soulful voice but her fame was soon eclipsed by Diane Ross, a fellow member of her group. While in high school, she used to participate in talent shows and got noticed for her unique voice and stage persona. Her singing talent caught the attention of a reputed record label and subsequently, she was offered an audition for a band. Her stint with ‘The Supremes’ was not very fruitful, as she was not given the opportunity to prove her mettle as a lead singer and was often consigned to background vocals. After a bitter strife and argument with the manager, she was ousted from the group as she retaliated by missing performances or record sessions. She also led a brief unsuccessful stint as a solo singer, but her life soon spiralled downwards due to poverty and alcoholism. Later, her financial conditions started improving and she made a comeback as a singer. Her career was, however, cut short due to her untimely death.
Childhood & Early Life
Florence Glenda Ballard was the ninth child born to Jesse and Lurlee Ballard in Detroit, Michigan.
She was introduced to the world of music and trained by her father, who was a musician himself. She attended ‘Northwestern High School’.
After noticing her vocal talent, the manager of a vocal group, ‘Primes’ approached her to join their sister group ‘Primettes’ in 1959. She soon asked her friend, Mary Wilson to audition for the same and the duo were selected. The group became a quartet when the manager brought in singers, Diane Ross and Betty McGlown.
They landed their first audition for American record producer, Berry Gordy’s ‘MoTown Records’ but were advised to graduate from high school as they were too young to become professional singers. Eventually, all the group mates graduated from high school, while Ballard dropped out.
In 1960, she suffered a misery that changed her entire outlook towards life. From the happy and bubbly girl that she was, she became a recluse, after being raped by a local high school basketball player at knifepoint.
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The ‘Primettes’ released their first record ‘Tears of Sorrow’ under the label, ‘Lupine Records’ but it didn’t taste great success.
In August 1960, the band recorded the singles, ‘After All’, ‘You Can Depend on Me’ and ‘Buttered Popcorn’, which catapulted them to fame.
On January 1, 1961, the band was renamed to ‘The Supremes’, following which, they signed a contract with ‘MoTown Records’.
In 1962, Ballard left the group and joined an all-girl group, ‘The Marvelettes’ as a vocalist by replacing singer Wanda Young who was on maternity leave.
A few of her never-released singles include ‘Ain’t That Good News’, ‘People’ and ‘It Makes No Difference Now’.
In 1966, due to excessive alcoholism and weight gain, she was replaced by another vocalist, which ended her tenure with ‘The Supremes’.
From 1963-1967, during her time with ‘The Supremes’ she managed to deliver ten ‘number one’ songs and sixteen ‘top forty’ singles.
In 1968, she signed a deal with ‘ABC Records’ and released two of her singles, ‘It Doesn’t Matter How I Say It’ and ‘Love Ain’t Love’. They failed commercially, which resulted in her later albums getting shelved by the record label.
On June 25, 1975, she performed at the ‘Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium’, Detroit and made a comeback as a singer with a new record deal.
In 1964, she was the lead vocalist for the song ‘People’, which featured in ‘The Supremes’ album, ‘There’s A Place for Us’. It soon became her trademark song and she started performing in auditoriums, for concerts and in nightclubs which lasted for two decades.
Awards & Achievements
In 1988, she was posthumously inducted into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’.
Personal Life & Legacy
On February 29, 1968, she married a chauffeur, Thomas Chapman and the couple had twin girls the same year.
In 1971, she gave birth to a third child but was deserted by her husband, which led to a financial crisis in the family.
Although her comeback was a success, she dealt with health problems due to alcoholism. She died of cardiac arrest, at the age of 32, in Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital. She is buried at the ‘Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery’ in Michigan.
In 2006, the musical drama ‘Dreamgirls’ starring Jennifer Hudson and Beyonc� Knowles was released and was made a ‘film a clef’, featuring the albums by ‘The Supremes’ and ‘MoTown Records’.
This prominent female singer was blessed with a powerful voice and was asked by the studio engineers to stand 17 feet away from the microphone while recording a song.