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  1. #1

    Bay Area Reporter: April 1974 Supremes Interview

    I've been looking through old gay magazines/newspapers lately and found this interesting interview with Mary, Cindy and Scherrie while looking through the The Bay Area Reporter's online archives. Taken from their April 17, 1974 issue, Cindy is heavily quoted in this one and it appears they were perhaps yet to sign their recording contract with Motown at this point. High praise for their show in San Francisco's Venetian Room, and I think the writer really nails down their personalities. I've attached pics and a transcription here.


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    Meet The Supremes by Donald McLean

    Supreme — “The highest in excellence” [[Webster’s Dictionary)

    Actually, it’s not a bad description of the “New” Supremes as I sit watching their act in the Venetian Room at the FAIRMONT HOTEL. From their rousing opening, “T.C.B./Stop in the Name of Love” to their rockin’ revival finale, “Love Train,” The Supremes are better than ever before, including when Miss Ross was with them. It’s an exciting, fast-paced hour of solid entertainment that has the staid Venetian Room audience jumping and yelling “Oh yeah!” The lone original, Mary Wilson, who previously sang “Doo wahs” behind Diana Ross or Jean Terrell, now heads the act and does a stunning “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” dropping the mike at the end of the number and that fine voice carrying into every corner of the room with no amplification. Cindy Birdsong, after almost a two-year absence, is back in the act with her special brand of twinkling eyed humor and support, and the newest member is Scherrie Payne. Miss Payne is probably destined to go through life being billed as “Freda Payne’s youngest sister,” but it’s unnecessary… she's a beautiful dynamo of talent capable of belting or caressing a lyric with a smooth, full-bodied voice that garners “Bravos” from the crowd. And because of the addition of Miss Payne, The Supremes have a richer, fuller sound than ever before [[“It is isn’t it?” says Miss Wilson), making them one of the best club acts in recent memory.

    Of special interest to local San Franciscans are the shimmering silver and/or grey sequinned gowns [[see photos) designed for them by Pat Campano, known previously for his costumes in local theatre productions such as “Mame,” “Dames at Sea,” and on and on. The Supremes enter in gowns and matching sequined coats trimmed in tons of turkey feathers, then Mary Wilson slowly sheds her coat to reveal the dazzling silver sequin Harlow-cut gown beneath and the audience bursts into spontaneous applause for the costumes. Mr. Campano is the exclusive designer for The Supremes and a definite asset to their show.

    As I enter their suite between shows for a quick interview before they have to go on again, Miss Wilson is drying her hair, Miss Payne is sitting relaxing in an armchair in a wild flowered kimono and Miss Birdsong is in the bedroom changing. Scherrie Payne is articulate, vivacious and quite open as she relates eye-to-eye. She joined the group October of ’73. “Is that all? I feel like I’ve been with them for years.” Prior to joining The Supremes, she sang with The Glass House until early ’73. She plays piano as well as performing “but I haven’t written anything for a couple of years now.” She speaks quite openly about her sister Freda, and I gather she’s pleased, not envious and feels no competition or comparison with her sister is necessary.

    The Supremes originated in Detroit, Michigan with three ladies: Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. They were brought to stardom by Motown Records [[with whom they no longer record) and had five consecutive number one hit records [[which has never been beaten) and seven gold records in less than two years. In 1967, the act was billed as “Diana Ross and The Supremes,” then Florence Ballard retired and Cindy Birdsong of “Patty and the Bluebells,” joined the act, then Miss Ross took off for more individual pastures. To Mary Wilson has fallen the task of keeping the act together, of finding new girls when one leaves, and keeping the quality of the original name at the same level. She’s sharp, keen-eyed, gracious but with an underlying toughness that makes her quite formidable, yet there’s a fun humor about her as she speaks that you feel she would be a good friend if she liked you and a bad enemy if she didn’t.

    She alone has kept The Supremes going, and you know it has not been always an easy road. While in San Francisco, they are rehearsing a new act to open in Las Vegas April 24th, but more exciting than that is Pedro Ferrer, the handsome law student from the Dominican Republic that Mary Wilson will marry on May 7th in Vegas. Pedro is quiet, extremely good-looking and rather shy; he plans to finish his law course study at UCLA next fall, meanwhile travelling with the act as road manager. Miss Wilson enters the room, shakes hands, senses someone is missing [[they travel with four musicians, a secretary, hairdresser, bodyguard/lighting man and manager) and looks around. “Where’s Pedro?” Assured he just stepped out for a minute, she resumes conversation. Miss Wilson and Mr. Ferrer will marry in a small ceremony at a chapel in Vegas [[bridal gown designed by Campano) but she says, “We’re really doing it for the moms… The mothers were very upset… I didn’t care at first, but now I really like the idea.” As she speaks of her forthcoming marriage, she is radiant… and who can blame her.

    Aha! Enter Cindy Birdsong, friendly as a puppy and quick to laugh. I gravitate to her, feeling here is a gal who would be a ball to go out and have a few drinks with. How many Supremes have there been in total? “Scherrie is our lucky number 7!” I ask Cindy if there was a slump when Diana Ross left the act? “No, for a while everything was just fine, then for a while we went into a slump, but our fans have always stuck with us and now, we have more fan clubs than we’ve ever had.” Prior to their opening at the Fairmont, The Supremes were playing in Mexico City when a fire broke out in the club and their entire dressing room, with nine sets [[“with us, everything is in threes, so that’s 27 costumes”) of gowns was totally demolished. “We don’t know why, but suspect it was set deliberately… Oh, everybody has their hand out there, but I was having a good time. But the fire did put a damper on it.” They had just shipped several trunks of wardrobe back to the States prior to the blaze, so they were left with not one stitch of wardrobe to finish their booking, until frantic phone calls enlisted a new set of Campano originals to get them through. I ask Cindy what the ultimate ambition of The Supremes is? “We want first to do a new act; this one we’ve been doing for quite a while. And we’d like another TV special; then we’d like to do a TV series, not necessarily a variety hour like “Sonny and Cher,” but maybe a situation comedy about three different girls who work together, and maybe sing one song each show.” Sounds like an interesting concept; TV producers, take note. But Cindy’s biggest enthusiasm is with The New Supremes. She beams at Scherrie and says “1974 is our year! We’re back to tell the public ‘Here we are again!’ This is going to be our year!!”

    And you know something? I believe it. Make way for The Supremes!”
    Last edited by telekin; 05-11-2024 at 02:16 AM.

  2. #2
    Good read. Thanks for posting.

  3. #3
    Thanks for posting telekin. You can sense the three women’s enthusiasm when hopes were really high. Little did Mary know what fate awaited her as a married lady.

  4. #4
    Thanks for posting!

  5. #5
    Cool interview!

    The description of Mary's performance of "Eyes"...The one she did on the Live In Japan album I would also describe as stunning. If she was equally as good or even better than that when this columnist saw her...wow!

    We discussed a little bit ago about MCS having a variety show, which I had no faith in. However, Cindy's idea of a sitcom might have been worth pursuing, especially with Berry focused on Hollywood.

  6. #6
    Great interview....there wasn't a lot said of them being label-less, but surprised it was mentioned at all they were no longer recording for Motown....Gordy must have realized with HDH being able to work anywhere now that Invictus/Hot Wax folded, and having the Supremes available as well for another label was something to really pay attention to...the 2 teams were already a "linked legend"....the thought that they could wind up together somewhere else could not be ignored....he should have appreciated Mary's dedication to Motown much earlier than the 2010's....Mary Scherrie and Cindy were a trio with a lot of potential...too bad the live work continued to be such a Vegas nightclub style presentation. Get rid of the powerful fast, brassy arrangements, overload of show tunes/medleys and focus on making the group more appealing to a newer, young record buying audience, in addition to dedicated fans getting tired of TCB and the like...and before anyone mentions the group members age....there were many hold overs from the 60's especially in the rock format still selling boat loads...

  7. #7
    Sounds like their show at this point was still largely the same show JML were doing when that line up came to its end.

  8. #8
    I remember reading this review back in 74, when us fans had to snail mail and depend on expensive long distance calls to keep up. It is interesting how different this review was to the one just a year prior at the same venue, which was so bad that it pushed Jean Terrell over the edge and she decided to quit.

    Motown really had no intention of re-starting the group. But Mary and the fans made sure that Berry Gordy and his staff read these reviews. When Scherrie joined, the reviews were superb and she was usually singled out. At the time of this performance the ladies had no contract with Motown. But Motown finally took notice and at the end of 1974, the ladies re-signed with the company.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Ollie9 View Post
    Thanks for posting telekin. You can sense the three women’s enthusiasm when hopes were really high. Little did Mary know what fate awaited her as a married lady.
    My pleasure! I was struck by their optimism too. Little did any of them know the rocky roads ahead! I have to say, when it comes to the writer’s description of Mary: “She’s sharp, keen-eyed, gracious but with an underlying toughness that makes her quite formidable, yet there’s a fun humor about her as she speaks […] She would be a good friend if she liked you and a bad enemy if she didn’t.” Refreshingly non-cliched and almost prophetic!
    Last edited by telekin; 05-11-2024 at 12:13 PM.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by telekin View Post
    My pleasure! I was struck by their optimism too. Little did any of them know the rocky roads ahead! I have to say, when it comes to the writer’s description of Mary: “She’s sharp, keen-eyed, gracious but with an underlying toughness that makes her quite formidable, yet there’s a fun humor about her as she speaks […] She would be a good friend if she liked you and a bad enemy if she didn’t.” Refreshingly non-cliched and almost prophetic!
    Nicely summed up.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by RanRan79 View Post
    Cool interview!

    The description of Mary's performance of "Eyes"...The one she did on the Live In Japan album I would also describe as stunning. If she was equally as good or even better than that when this columnist saw her...wow!

    We discussed a little bit ago about MCS having a variety show, which I had no faith in. However, Cindy's idea of a sitcom might have been worth pursuing, especially with Berry focused on Hollywood.
    Mary's version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is the highlight of Live in Japan for me. Good recording despite the otherwise tired song selection.

    Some of the things that Cindy says here back up the details from the '74 Fan Club newsletters that marybrewster posted. I also think the sitcom idea comes across much better, especially in the way Cindy describes it here. I've recently started following some YouTube channels posting all sort of short-lived TV shows of yesteryear, and certainly the concept is much more interesting than many things that actually were realized!

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by gman View Post
    Great interview....there wasn't a lot said of them being label-less, but surprised it was mentioned at all they were no longer recording for Motown....
    That was a small line that stood out to me too!

    I'll have to go back to the updated, combined edition of Mary's book[[s) to check the additional chapter of updates sometime. In there, Mary details a moment in 1974 where she had found out that Motown hadn't registered a trademark on The Supremes' name, and was resolved to trademark it on her own. A chance to hopefully right the wrongs of the past, as it were, unchaining the group from Motown. Unfortunately it wasn't to be, but I do wonder if the optimism here may have also had something to do with that.
    Last edited by telekin; 05-11-2024 at 01:12 PM.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by BayouMotownMan View Post
    I remember reading this review back in 74, when us fans had to snail mail and depend on expensive long distance calls to keep up. It is interesting how different this review was to the one just a year prior at the same venue, which was so bad that it pushed Jean Terrell over the edge and she decided to quit.

    Motown really had no intention of re-starting the group. But Mary and the fans made sure that Berry Gordy and his staff read these reviews. When Scherrie joined, the reviews were superb and she was usually singled out. At the time of this performance the ladies had no contract with Motown. But Motown finally took notice and at the end of 1974, the ladies re-signed with the company.
    Just want to say, BayouMotownMan I always appreciate your valuable insight here and elsewhere on how things actually were in the world of The Supremes, especially for fans like me who weren't around then.

    Quite interesting in a way to see how by this time, Mary was increasingly using the press to navigate the politics of Motown and the music business.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by telekin View Post
    That was a small line that stood out to me too!

    I'll have to go back to the updated, combined edition of Mary's book[[s) to check the additional chapter of updates sometime. In there, Mary details a moment in 1974 where she had found out that Motown hadn't registered a trademark on The Supremes' name, and was resolved to trademark it on her own. A chance to hopefully right the wrongs of the past, as it were, unchaining the group from Motown. Unfortunately it wasn't to be, but I do wonder if the optimism here may have also had something to do with that.
    yeah in the last version of her book, there's an epilogue with more of this story. to sum it up, sounds like the lawyer she hired was in cahoots with motown. apparently motown had NOT filed a trademark on the name The Supremes and so mary did. but then motown i guess found out and then maybe paid her lawyer off or something, cuz the papers from the TM office arrived at the lawyer but then were sent to Motown behind her back.

    it brings up a HUGE what if here!!

    if mary HAD received ownership of the name, who knows what could have happened. To be honest, mary hasn't always made the wisest business decisions. I'm not sure she's any better at being a manager than Diana. so would mary have been able to take the name elsewhere and forge ahead with a lucrative and productive career? i'm not so sure.

    could she maybe have used it as leverage to stay with motown but get better support? maybe?

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by sup_fan View Post
    yeah in the last version of her book, there's an epilogue with more of this story. to sum it up, sounds like the lawyer she hired was in cahoots with motown. apparently motown had NOT filed a trademark on the name The Supremes and so mary did. but then motown i guess found out and then maybe paid her lawyer off or something, cuz the papers from the TM office arrived at the lawyer but then were sent to Motown behind her back.

    it brings up a HUGE what if here!!
    Well this is perhaps one of the biggest "What Ifs" for me in The Supremes story. Interesting to see which of the Motown acts got to keep their names - The Tempts and The Tops, and which didn't - The Supremes and The Jackson 5. It's one major thing that Motown was, in my mind, needlessly punitive about. In the Jackson 5 story Motown practically comes across like a cartoon villain, telling Joe and the boys "if you don't sign the contract, we'll find 5 other boys named Jackson and put them on the road!"

    if mary HAD received ownership of the name, who knows what could have happened. To be honest, mary hasn't always made the wisest business decisions. I'm not sure she's any better at being a manager than Diana. so would mary have been able to take the name elsewhere and forge ahead with a lucrative and productive career? i'm not so sure.

    could she maybe have used it as leverage to stay with motown but get better support? maybe?
    Most artists with long careers are going to have some missteps along the way, and multiple people advising them. At the end of the day, it's besides the point whether Mary would have made the right choices or not. The name ought to stay with the artists - not the record company. That's their work, their identity and their lifeline, as demonstrated by the fact that most of the former Supremes either worked at some point or continue to do so on the back of The Supremes' name and legacy.

    I would argue that if Mary had been able to wrest control of the name, yes, she probably would have used it to get a better deal elsewhere, and we probably wouldn't have gotten the books that we got. Not that she wouldn't have written one at some point, but to my mind, Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith were as much about taking some of that ownership back as anything else.
    Last edited by telekin; 06-14-2024 at 11:56 AM.

  16. #16
    All great points Telekin!

    In these cases, there should always be some type of hearing regarding trademark of names. The J5 were that before they came to Motown. Florence named the group "Supremes", thus they were called the Supremes because the group- represented by Flo- titled themselves that way. Motown was always going to be in charge of the group's musical output recorded and released at Motown. Having rights to the name, while valuable, should have belonged to the original members, but especially Mary since she saw the name from beginning to ending.

    The music business is a business, but there is never an excuse for greed, and that's what this was. And then Motown never did anything with the name beyond releasing music. Perhaps in Mary's hands there could have been all kinds of merchandise and things that would have added to her income, and if she was sharing the name with her original groupmates, also added income for Flo's daughters.

  17. #17
    Thanks Ran!

    I agree with all that you said. The name issue to me is perhaps the Supremes' original sin, if you will. I think about when they were asked to change their name before signing their contract. I mean, "Supremes" is a much better name than "Primettes" but once they chose that new name and put it on paper, their fate was sealed.

    Thinking about the politics of stage names, I remember one of Tina Turner's last interviews, it must have been with Oprah, where she said that Ike Turner chose the name "Tina," thinking if she left him like his other singers did, he could just slip a new girl in under the same name. Obviously he did not take into account how long she'd stick around and how fully and completely she would inhabit the name when she did. By the time she was done with him, there's no way he could've passed off anyone else off as Tina Turner.
    Last edited by telekin; 06-13-2024 at 05:54 PM.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by telekin View Post
    Thanks Ran!

    I agree with all that you said. The name issue to me is perhaps the Supremes' original sin, if you will. I think about when they were asked to change their name before signing their contract. I mean, "Supremes" is a much better name than "Primettes" but once they chose that new name and put it on paper, their fate was sealed.

    Thinking about the politics of stage names, I remember one of Tina Turner's last interviews, it must have been with Oprah, where she said that Ike Turner chose the name "Tina," thinking if she left him like his other singers did, he could just slip a new girl in under the same name. Obviously he did not take into account how long she'd stick around and how fully and completely she would inhabit the name when she did. By the time she was done with him, there's no way he could've passed off anyone else off as Tina Turner.
    Indeed. Tina Turner made sure she would not be a "Peaches" to Ike Turner's "Herb".

  19. #19
    Ownership of the name and usage of the name are different things. the ownership aspect is what gets super tricky. the usage was the unnecessarily punitive parts of the exit agreement with Flo. had she had proper legal counsel, she should have been able to have that eliminated from the agreement. but motown was in the process of launching DR as the star attraction of the group and they knew that if Flo signed elsewhere, while she couldn't establish another trio called The Supremes, using the group's name and legacy in her publicity material would have pulled attention away from Diana. But again, a halfway decent lawyer could have negotiated this.

    After Flo though, I don't think that clause was in any of the releases for the women. I don't think Jean or Cindy or Susaye were barred from saying they had been former members of the Supremes. during the 70s, the mistake was signing away future royalties.

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