Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE SUPREMES by Mark Ribowsky

THE SUPREMES

A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success, and Betrayal

By Mark Ribowsky

Pub Date: July 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-306-81586-7
Publisher: Da Capo/Perseus

Acrid biography of the biggest female vocal group of all time.

Ribowsky (Josh Gibson: The Power and the Darkness, 2004, etc.) dredges up all the muck he can find on Motown Records’ hit-making trio, who tallied a dozen No. 1 pop-soul singles from 1964 through Diana Ross’ departure for a solo career in 1969. The outline will be familiar to readers of past memoirs by Ross, member Mary Wilson and Motown founder Berry Gordy, which the writer pillages extensively while castigating their lack of candor. Founded in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass projects by teenager Florence Ballard as a quartet originally known as the Primettes, the group was nurtured to international stardom, after several flop singles, by self-made music mogul Gordy. The label chief was severely smitten with the skinny, purring Ross, a turbine of selfish ambition who enjoyed short-lived affairs with Gordy’s adjutant Smokey Robinson and songwriter Brian Holland before taking up with her long-lusting boss after she hit pay dirt. Readers looking for another Dreamgirls should look elsewhere—no one escapes unscathed in this scabrous tome. Ross predictably emerges as an imperious, spotlight-hogging diva; Wilson is depicted as man-hungry, disloyal and timorous; the tragic Ballard, who died at 32 in 1976 after her brutal expulsion from the act she formed, is portrayed as a self-destructive, alcoholic loose cannon. Gordy hovers above the action as a deceitful, iron-fisted coveter of white-bread mainstream success who coldly robbed even his top act. Ribowsky, who relies heavily on secondary sources and testimony from disaffected members of the Motown “family,” excessively magnifies and explicates each torturous incident in the Supremes’ story. The author is also prone to five-dollar verbiage, frequently obvious flights of dim analysis and thudding attempts at cleverness.

Overwritten and overtly sensational.