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Don Meets: Diana Ross and The Supremes

April 29, 2015

 Summer 1963, in Bermuda, and I get a phone call: "Hey Donnie, Barry Gordy's got a great Girl's Group breaking-in at the Clayhouse Inn tonight, why don't you come by and see them, I'll leave your name at the door."

 

On the weekends I was emceeing at the Forty Thieves Club in Hamilton, where the crowd was pretty upscale catering to tourists and affluent locals. The Clayhouse Inn was more of an entertainment spot for locals and new artists trying to polish their acts.

 

Motown founder Barry Gordy liked to send artists over to the island to season them far away from the U.S. spotlight. So I went over to see the group, it usually meant free drinks and the best seats in the house when I was invited to visit. We were talking when the group was introduced as: "The Supremes" – three pretty girls, in rather fancy dresses.

 

I was looking around the room to see the crowd's reaction when I heard this incredible sound, I looked up and realized it was the voice of the lead singer, Diana Ross. I turned to the Promoter and asked what their story was, and he said they were from the Housing Projects in Detroit and so far had cut eight records that hadn't been successful, (They were referred to as the No-Hit Supremes at Motown), but they had a new single, "Lovelight," (for short), written and produced by a new team called Holland-Dozier-Holland, who had the magic touch.

 

After they left the stage I went back and introduced myself, and asked if they'd like to have dinner the next night, the answer was no, at 18 there were very strict rules and a curfew, but, they could do lunch…even better.

 

The next day they were dropped at the Ecarte Club, a Jazz Joint I frequented, and we ate burgers on the patio. It was really fun, I had brought my radio partner, Mike McKenzie, and we discussed their career so far and what did they have in store for the future. Diana gave me the record, which I promised to play, and told me it had entered the Billboard chart in the U.S. that day.

 

At some point, one of the girls, I think Mary Wilson, (Florence Ballard was the third and pretty quiet), told me that Barry had just recorded this 13-year-old blind boy named Steveland Morris, who was a genius, and in fact they were changing his name to "Stevie Wonder."

 

I said it sounded exciting and to please have the record sent to me in Bermuda as soon as it was released. A couple of weeks later I received the single: "Fingertips." It was an instant hit, and I was blown away.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Stevie Wonder - Fingertips

 

P.S., the Supremes, Lovelight,' single made it to the Billboard Top 25, but the next one was called, "Where did our love go?" and it went to #1, the follow-up was "Baby Love," another number 1, to be followed by a series of hits that everyone remembers.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Diana Ross and the Supremes - Baby Love

 

Did I have any idea at lunch that day that these three girls would become world famous? No, but I knew there was something special about them; when we posed for photos, Diana fell into a slinky pose, common to the Divas she would join one day. The pictures? Oh, they were Polaroids and are now faded and blurred. But the fame and fan-love of the Supremes carries on undiminished.

 

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