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Singer Florence Ballard formed The Supremes in 1961 with childhood friends Mary Wilson and Diana Ross. She sang on 16 different Top 40 hits.
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Her voice was so powerful on the track that studio engineers requested that she stand 17 feet away from the microphone while she sang. During this period, Ballard also stood in for Wanda Young of the Marvelettes, who was out on maternity leave. (Gladys Horton, lead singer of The Marvelettes, sought Ballard's advice before she famously recorded "Please Mr. Postman.")
Although Ballard had a huge and soulful voice, she never sang lead again on another released 45 single. In 1963,
Motown leader Berry Gordy named Diana Ross lead singer of The Supremes. However, Ballard did sing lead parts throughout her Supremes career on several album tracks not released as singles. Most famous were the second verses of "It Makes No Difference Now" from The Supremes Sing Country Western And Pop and "Ain't That Good News" from We Remember Sam Cooke, plus the Christmas songs "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night."
Over the next several years, the relationship between Ballard and Berry Gordy became more and more strained, as the all-powerful Motown boss sought to make Diana Ross the star of The Supremes. By the time Gordy renamed the act Diana Ross and The Supremes in 1967, Ballard had begun to retaliate by skipping scheduled public appearances and studio sessions. When Gordy brought in a young Patti LaBelle to stand in for Ballard, it was the beginning of the end of Ballard's run with The Supremes. Her last performance with the legendary trio came in Las Vegas in June 1967. By August of the same year, the Detroit Free Press reported that she was taking a leave of absence from The Supremes to recover from "exhaustion." In reality, Gordy had booted her from the group.
Ballard married a Motown chauffeur named Thomas Chapman in February 1968 and quickly hired him as her new manager after her departure from the label. 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, but the singles failed to chart. Ballard's album for ABC was shelved, sending her musical career into a downward spiral. Ballard also faced financial troubles after hiring an alleged embezzler as her business attorney; she later sued him for money owed after discovering he had been skimming off the top of her earnings. To add insult to injury, there were stipulations in Ballard's new contract with ABC that forbade Ballard from mentioning her earlier membership in The Supremes for promotional use or marketing any of her albums.
In October 1968, Ballard gave birth to twin girls Michelle and Nicole Chapman. She had a third child, Lisa, in 1971. Troubles in her personal life continued, however, as Thomas left Ballard later that year, causing her home to go into foreclosure. Ballard's financial woes worsened because she refused to return to the stage; with three young girls at home and no income, she eventually had to file for welfare.
Ballard's string of bad luck began to turn in 1975 when her former attorney's office settled an insurance dispute with her; the settlement allowed her to purchase a small home for herself and her three children.
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