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Florence Glenda Ballard Chapman

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Florence Glenda Ballard Chapman

Posted: 27 Jul 2006 3:39PM GMT
Classification: Obituary
Surnames: Ballard, Chapman
Florence Glenda Ballard Chapman, nicknamed "Flo" or "Blondie", (June 30, 1943 – February 22, 1976) was an African American singer, best known as the founder and original lead singer of Motown act The Supremes.

Referred to by music journalist Richie Unterberger as "one of rock's greatest tragedies", Ballard was replaced as lead singer of the Supremes by her bandmate Diana Ross, who was felt to have more crossover appeal than Ballard. After a series of depressions and problems with performance, Ballard was dropped from the Supremes in mid-1967 and replaced with Cindy Birdsong. Ballard attempted a solo career, which was unsuccessful, and the singer spent much of the later parts of her life in poverty before dying in 1976 at the age of thirty-two.
Ballard was born in Rosetta, Mississippi, but before the age of ten, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan to take advantage of the booming job market. Ballard, nicknamed "Blondie" because of her auburn hair and light complexion, founded The Primettes, an all-girl singing group spin-off of The Primes (later known as The Temptations), in 1959. The Primettes would sign to the Motown label in 1961 and go on to make music history as The Supremes.

In 1960, a friend of one of Ballard's brothers offered her a ride home after a local sock hop. He then took her to an empty street and raped her at knifepoint. The attacker subsequently dropped her off at home, casually remarking something to the effect that he didn't understand why she was so "upset" (by what had occurred). Ballard was able to identify her attacker in a police lineup, and later testified against him in court, placing her in the rare company of women who get to see their attackers sent to prison. Unfortunately, her rape was never again mentioned (either in a clinical or casual setting) and Ballard instead threw herself into her music.
In the early days of The Supremes, all three girls took turns singing lead vocals, with Ballard singing lead on songs such as "Buttered Popcorn", "Ain't That Good News", "Silent Night", "Oh Holy Night", "Heavenly Father", and her specialty number, "People." Ballard's voice was so powerful that she was made to stand up to 17 feet away from her microphone during recordings and performances, while the other two Supremes stood directly in front of their microphones. [3] Also, before the Supremes became famous, Ballard toured as a member of The Marvelettes while Wanda Young was on maternity leave.

Diana Ross was made the permanent lead singer of the Supremes in 1964 because Motown chief Berry Gordy believed that her voice, with its higher register, would attract white audiences to the group. Ross, Ballard, and Mary Wilson recorded ten number-one US pop hits between 1964 and 1967, all of which featured Ross on lead vocals.

In the beginning of 1966, Ballard's solo number, "People", was given over to Diana Ross to sing. This marked the beginning of the decline of Gordy's and Ballard's relationship. Throughout the year, Ballard and Gordy (with Ross on his side) argued constantly. Resentful and depressed for being pushed out of the spotlight, Ballard became a heavy drinker and gained weight until she no longer fit many of her costumes and gowns. In July 1967, she was fired from The Supremes and from Motown; Cindy Birdsong took her place in the group, which was renamed Diana Ross & The Supremes shortly before Ballard's departure.

Ballard married Thomas Chapman, a former chauffeur for Motown, on February 29, 1968, and signed with ABC Records in March 1968, two weeks after having negotiated her release from Motown on February 22, 1968. Ballard received a one-time payment of $139,804.94 in royalties and earnings from Motown for her six-year tenure with the label. [1]

Billed as "Florence 'Flo' Ballard" and with her husband serving as her manager, 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 album she recorded was shelved. After that, Ballard's musical career went into extreme decline and the $139,000 was gradually depleted by Chapman and Ballard's management agency.

However, Ballard had continued with her solo career. In September of 1968, she performed alongside Bill Cosby at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. That same year, Ballard also rode in a Chicago parade with comedian Godfrey Cambridge. On October 20, 1968, she was the featured personality of Detroit's magazine, Detroit and that same month, she gave birth to twin girls, Michelle Chapman and Nicole Chapman, the first of her three children. She began the new year by performing at one of Richard Nixon's inaugural balls in Washington, DC on January 20, 1969.

By 1971, Ballard sued Motown for royalty payments she felt were due her. However, the judges ruled against her and in favor of Motown
In 1973, Ballard gave birth to her third child, Lisa Chapman. Soon after, Thomas Chapman left Ballard, Ballard's house was foreclosed upon, and her career ended. She had three daughters to feed, and was forced to move in with her mother. Deeply depressed, she continued to drink, allowing her health to deteriorate.

During the next couple of years, Ballard excluded herself from almost all publicity. Mary Wilson, who had continued a rapport with Ballard over the years, invited Ballard in 1974 to fly out to California and perform with The Supremes, now with Scherrie Payne as lead singer. Although Ballard's appearance onstage brought significant praise from the crowd, later that night she told Wilson that she had no desire to keep trying at a career in music.

When she returned to Detroit, Ballard's situation continued to decline. She had more financial problems and was unable to return to the entertainment business. Soon, Ballard applied for welfare, and the news hit the newspapers instantly.

In 1975, Ballard received a settlement from a slip-and-fall incident in which she had broken her leg after slipping on a patch of ice. Ballard took the money, got herself cleaned up and back in shape, and began making steps towards a comeback. She also reconciled with Chapman. On June 25, 1975, Ballard performed in Detroit as a part of the Joan Little Defense League at the Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium, backed by the female rock group, The Deadly Nightshade, to a highly receptive crowd. She sang Helen Reddy's I Am Woman, and when the audience wanted an encore - a Supremes encore - Ballard sang "Come See About Me". Soon after, Ballard received offers for recording contracts, interviews, and appearances. She also performed on television, including a fairly candid conversation about her past and hoped future during an appearance on the local Detroit TV talk show, "The David Diles Show."

On February 21, 1976, Ballard entered Mt. Carmel Mercy Hospital, complaining of numbness in her extremities. The next day, she died of coronary thrombosis, a blood clot in one of her coronary arteries. She was thirty-two years old. She is buried in Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery located in Warren, Michigan.

Florence Ballard: Forever Faithful!, a biography of Ballard written by Randall Wilson, was printed in 1999. In 2002, The Supreme Florence "Flo" Ballard, which included all the tracks from the album she recorded on ABC Records in 1968, was released on compact disc by Spectrum, a London-based company.



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