Florence Ballard

June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976

A powerful voice. Immense ambition. A tragic life. These are often the foundations for the most compelling stories.

Florence Ballard had all three. The happy-go-lucky teenager in Detroit met a kindred during high school in the form of fellow singer, Mary Wilson. The two met at a talent show and would eventually both join the new sister act to the Primes – a local group consisting of future-Temptations Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. Ballard, Wilson, Betty McGowan and Diana Ross – as the Primettes – enjoyed some local success and turned their eyes on a Motown contract. Berry Gordy liked what he saw but encouraged them to A) finish high school and B) change their name. Florence suggested they call themselves the “Supremes.”

Despite early struggles, the “No-Hit Supremes” finally broke through in 1964 with “Where Did Our Love Go.” At this point a trio, Ballard, Ross and Wilson blew up with ten No. 1 hits over the next three years including “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “I Hear a Symphony” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.” The Supremes became Motown’s biggest and most successful act. But, while Diana Ross’ star rose quickly, Wilson and Ballard were more or less relegated to the background.

At the height of their successes, Florence began to abuse alcohol. She suffered from bouts of depression and distrusted nearly everyone around her. This is said to have stemmed from her being sexually assaulted as a teenager. She used the alcohol to cope and it began to unravel her life. She became irritated with the direction of the group and would show up to shows intoxicated. She took a leave of absence from the group that was either voluntary or not, depending on who you ask. Despite trying to rejoin the Supremes, she was permanently replaced in 1967 by Cindy Birdsong.

Ballard attempted a solo career and wound up in a number of legal cases with Motown for royalties she felt she was owed. She won the first case, but lost the others and was also the victim of embezzlement from later representation resulting in her falling into poverty. All the while, her drinking got worse. She hit rock bottom and was able to enter a rehab program. She got straight for a while and even was able to get her career back on track. Six months after launching her comeback bid, Florence Ballard died of cardiac arrest at the age of 32.

Ballard’s story has been the source for many works over the years. She is memorialized in songs like Ross’ “Missing You” and Nas’ “Blunt Ashes.” The Broadway musical Dreamgirls is loosely based on the Supremes with the character of Effie White mirroring Ballard’s life.

Burial

Detroit Memorial Park East – Warren, MI

Specific Location

Section D – Immediately upon entering the park, pull straight forward until the Garden of Love outdoor mausoleum is on your left. Florence is buried to your right, in the middle of Section D, pretty much even with this mausoleum.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: