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KARLA MASS: The week's most talked about book


Baby, baby

Baby don't leave me

Ooh, please don't leave me

All by myself

I've got this burning, burning

Yearning feelin' inside me

Ooh, deep inside me

And it hurts so bad

Back in the day, I could not hit a high note, a low note or even hum in key to a song, but the soulful groove and catchy lyrics to “Where Did Our Love Go?” are etched in my memory. Originally rejected by the Marvelettes, this '60s hit skyrockets the Supremes to stardom. It is their first recorded song to reach No. 1 on the Pop and R&B charts.

Florence Ballard, founder of the group and the name Supremes, sings strong, made-for-church vocals in the background. Fans describe her as “the one with the voice.” But despite these accolades, Diana Ross is always out front as lead vocalist; and for Ballard, this snub of her talent is the beginning of the end.

“The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard” by Peter Benjaminson delves into the life of Ballard as a feisty teen, a determined mother and one of the four original Supremes. Her personal struggles will break hearts, and although the tragic outcome of this biography is well known, fans still hope for a miracle.

The author of the previous book, "The Story of Motown," pens another page turner that appeals to both young and old, but it's especially interesting for big dreamers who have faced similar challenges. Ballard shares the most intimate details of her life with the author during one-on-one interviews.

Her story begins as one of 13 children growing up in Detroit’s Brewster housing project. She describes lively family jam sessions, common in the Lambert household.

Ballard, Nancy Wilson and Diana Ross are childhood friends who share a love of music. Together, they form a group with a fourth member named Betty McGlown and call themselves the Primettes. The energetic quartet rehearses after school and eventually performs in public. Venues include clubs, church recreation rooms and union halls. McGlown eventually marries and leaves the group; and Ballard, Wilson and Ross are devastated.

The trio cements their relationship after signing a "one-sided" contract with Motown and founder Berry Gordy. Milestones include an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, a debut at New York City’s Copacabana in July 1965 and an unforgettable meeting with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr of the popular band, the Beatles. The once unknown Supremes are now touring the world.

Benjaminson writes, "Motown continued to deduct from their royalites all the expenses of recording and producing their records, as well as the costs of sending them around the country and the world to tour."

But most disturbing ... Ballard's role as a Supreme is threatened. She constantly bickers with Ross and instinctively strikes back when verbally attacked by Gordy. Her self-esteem plummets. Ballard's pitfalls are numerous and include a poor contract with Motown, a rocky relationship with Ross and Gordy and inadequate legal representation. Revelations about her descent into depression and poverty are astonishing.

Benjaminson portrays Ballard, the lost supreme, with honesty and dignity. He peels back the layers of a delicate soul and reveals her vulnerability.

He also reminds us of the good old days. Personal, black-and-white photographs depict Ballard's journey to stardom, along with a beautiful cover image of her in better times. Informative appendixes include a lengthy discography and an excerpt from Ballard's well publicized legal case.

There are a variety of books to choose from on the career and life of Florence Ballard, but Benjaminson's version prevails. He has no axe to grind, no alliances to hold dear to and nothing to lose by telling Flo's side of the story.


The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard


Author: Peter Benjaminson

Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books

Publication Date: April 2008

A groovy website: The Social Music Revolution at

Listen to an excerpt from "The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard"


Dead Heat


Author: Joel C. Rosenberg

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

Publication Date: March 2008

Making My Mark: The Story of a Man Who Wouldn't Stay in His Place


Author: Marvin S. Arrington

Publisher: Mercer University Press

Publication Date: March 2008

The Ten-Year Nap


Author: Meg Wolitzer

Publisher: Penguin Group USA

Publication Date: March 2008

"The Week's Most Talked About Book" is a weekly book review and literary criticism column that publishes every Friday. Selected titles are based on popularity, public opinion, research and observation. Questions, comments and suggestions should be sent to book lover and columnist Karla Mass at She is a content producer for McClatchy Interactive.