Randall Wilson Interview
On The Supremes
Q. Why did you choose to concentrate on Florence Ballard
in your book?
A. I'm 35 and I grew up in Detroit. At the time, The Supremes were really hitting their stride in '64-'65. I like Florence. She was my particular favorite out of the group. She stuck out as the one with the personality. Diana got to sing the songs, but Florence to me, is the one that stuck out. I like her flair for comedy. I sort of went for that. Just as everybody might've had their favorite Beatle, Florence was my favorite Supreme.
Q. How much sympathy can people have for Florence Ballard,
when they discover she made and spent a lot of money, and ended up on welfare?
A. That's a good question and needs a defense to it. It needs some perspective. When The Supremes were making it big from 1964-1967, they were making a lot of money for Motown Records. But, it was for Motown Records. It wasn't for them individually. The accounts that were set up, were set up for Motown. Out of that, the girls got a $225 a week allowance. The rest of the money was put into different sorts of trusts and reinvested into the company, through Motown itself. So, they were acting as their legal guardian in terms of their finances. That money was in joint accounts, a co-signing account with Motown Records. So, that money wasn't really her money. It was still tied up with Motown and their subsidiary organization which took care of all artists’ management arrangements.
Q. Before Florence was let go, there were reports she
was drinking too much, and not paying enough attention to her personal appearance.
Did The Supremes have any other choice but to fire her?
A. Those were problems and the decision to drop Florence from the group could not have been an easy decision. In letting go of Florence, it created as much bad feelings in Motown as it did to alleviate the problem they were facing. At those heights, you can't make as many mistakes, because you're being watched. And, The Supremes were being watched. She was a victim of the success. One of her own frustrations was that her voice was being relegated more and more to the back.
Q. Why didn't Flo do better on her own?
A. Florence was contractually limited from ever using the name Supreme in any of her own publicity and ABC Records (her record label) by the same token was prevented from promoting her as a former member of The Supremes. They couldn't use it. They would've been sued by Motown.
Q. Did Motown try to sabotage her career?
A. I think there's a strong suspicion for that. The intent to prevent her from having a solo career was there in the restriction.
Q. Did you find anything suspicious in the fact that
Flo died of a cardiac arrest at the age of 32?
A. No. I don't think it was suspicious. It was cardiac arrest, probably brought on by a couple of medical factors. At the time, she was on medication for depression. She was also on weight control medication. I read that it was an accidental death brought on by a combination of medicine, but it was cardiac arrest.
Q. What was Florence Ballard's contribution to The Supremes?
A. She got the group together. Florence was the one, at least in those beginning years who had the vision of the group succeeding.
Q. After researching her story, what did you learn about
the music business that you didn't already know?
A. I can't think of anything in particular. But, it did re-confirm a lot of my earlier convictions that the music business doesn't necessarily depend on the amount of talent you have. It depends on your ability to work in the music system, which is business first. When it comes right down to it, it's dollars and cents and return of profit on product. In doing my research, this was something that Diana Ross was keenly aware of, but I don't think Florence was. I think Florence was more in tune with music itself, and the ability to create the music.