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Thread started 07/30/07 2:14pm

bboy87

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Florence Ballard's sister speaks

just recently found this, really interesting
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The real Effie

Feisty diva in 'Dreamgirls' revives interest in Supremes' Ballard

Susan Whitall / The Detroit News


The Superemes are Diana Ross, left, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. See full image

Maxine Ballard Jenkins on

Diane (Diana) Ross and Mary Wilson:
"Diane looked out for (Florence's) kids, for years. Not only Diane, Mary also. But Diane especially. My nieces were forever calling me, telling me, 'We don't have to worry about Christmas, the truck is here.' Diane sent each one of them individually a check every year, until she felt like they were able to make it on their own, had families of their own.

Florence's weight problem:
"She wasn't that large. Florence was about a size 10. She started gaining a little weight over time, but she managed to keep it together."

Florence's music:
"She was trying to get her life together at the end, she had recorded on the ABC label, and I have a copy of the last performance she performed. She got a standing ovation."

Her own anger:
"I started out being angry at Diane and Mary. I thought, this is not right. Diane's mother was a beautiful person. She helped me a lot, she took me up under her wing, showed me how to make the costumes (for the Primettes). We were always welcome in Diana's house. "

"Dreamgirls":
"I'm happy for the movie because it does bring attention to her. Any attention that comes to her now, it can never be negative. Because they'll look at the film, then they'll read the book and they'll say 'OK. There are similarities.' "


Maxine Ballard Jenkins talks about her sister Florence


Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News

Maxine Ballard Jenkins, with a picture of the Supremes, said the public needs to know that Florence Ballard fought to the end.


As audiences flock to see Jennifer Hudson's performance as the troubled but gifted singer Effie in "Dreamgirls," the movie has led to renewed interest in the "real" Effie, the late Florence Ballard of the Supremes.

While the character is not entirely based on Ballard -- Effie triumphs at the end, while Ballard died in poverty in 1976, at age 32 -- the movie closely follows the former Supreme's life story. Both Effie and Ballard started a girl group, were forced out of the group at its peak, and ended up on welfare.

During an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Hudson says she thought intensely about Ballard while playing Effie.

"I felt like I was saying what Florence Ballard would have wanted to say," Hudson told the newspaper. "I got angry for Florence; like highly upset. Like, oooh, and I felt like her voice."

"Dreamgirls" earned $43.31 million in its first week of wide release, with its Christmas Day opening having the best single day ever for a musical, according to figures released by Paramount and DreamWorks. The film has drawn critical raves, with Hudson singled out as a possible Oscar contender.

The reality of Ballard's life was more dramatic than "Dreamgirls," according to her closest sibling, Maxine Ballard Jenkins of Redford Township. The "real" Effie grew up in a family of 15 children in Detroit's Brewster-Douglass projects and was even cheekier than the character played by Hudson.

"Jennifer Hudson did a really good job; she was sassy and all that. But with the real Florence, there would have been a few harsh words exchanged in there, and maybe somebody would have gotten a slap or two in between," says her sister with a laugh.

Now Jenkins, 64, wants to set the record straight about her sister's life in a book, "The True Story of Florence (Blondie) Ballard." The retired kindergarten teacher's self-published book will be available in a month or two on her Web site, maxineballard.com.

Growing up in Detroit

The statuesque sisters were born in Detroit only 11 months apart, Maxine in 1942, the eighth Ballard child, and Florence in 1943, the ninth. Maxine was dubbed "Dagwood" for her skinny build and freckles, while Florence was called "Blondie" because of her flowing reddish-blond locks.

"We used to fly through the projects like we owned them," Jenkins says, laughing. She remembers having the windows open at night to hear the street corner harmonizing, and nights at the Graystone Ballroom, where they'd sigh over Jackie Wilson in concert.

When "Blondie" spat at neighborhood kids who teased her about her light hair, it was "Dagwood" who stopped them from beating up her sister. It was Maxine sitting beside her on a Brewster-Douglass doorstep in 1958 when Ballard was discovered by Milton Jenkins, manager of the Primes (and eventually, Maxine's husband). Singing came naturally to Ballard, she sang in her mother's spiritualist church, and her father sang and played the blues.

Jenkins was intrigued by the sisters, and once he heard Ballard's throaty, gospel-inflected voice, he asked her to form a sister group for the Primes, the pre-Temptations group he managed that included Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams.

Ballard invited her friend from the projects, Mary Wilson, and later Diane (as Diana was known then) Ross as well, and the "Primettes" were born. (Sharp-eared movie fans might have caught the in-joke when the "Dreamettes" are mistakenly introduced as the "Primettes" in an early scene in "Dreamgirls".)

Life as a Supreme

As 1959 turned into 1960, the Primettes became the Supremes, although Motown founder Berry Gordy wouldn't let the girls record until they graduated from high school (Northwestern, for Ballard). Holland-Dozier-Holland starting racking up hits for the Supremes by 1963 and, dressed in sizzling early '60s chic, the trio embarked on years of frenzied touring and hitmaking.

It was in the late '60s, when Gordy renamed the group "Diana Ross and the Supremes" that the turmoil started. Ballard was accused of drinking too much, showing up late and having a bad attitude.

Jenkins says her sister's problems were deeper than any resentment over Ross' increasing fame. The Ballard family had lost two young brothers in accidents, and Ballard was raped by an acquaintance in around 1960. As was common then, the incident was kept quiet and Ballard received no counseling. Later on, after she left the group she endured mismanagement and marital problems, as well.

As real as the singer's troubles were, her relationship with her fellow Supremes has been the subject of much gossip and mythmaking over the years. Maxine is determined to quash much of it.

"All I've ever read about my sister, she's an alcoholic, she's this, she's that. Of course she had a drinking problem, that's in my book. My father had a drinking problem, as well. But she also was a generous person, she had a big heart. And she loved Diane and Mary like sisters. She never stopped loving them."

One myth that "Dreamgirls" has given new legs is that Ballard was pushed out as original lead singer of the Supremes in favor of Diana's "more commercial" voice.

"Florence formed the group, but Diane was the lead singer of the Primettes," Jenkins says. "This is something nobody knows: When Milton Jenkins put them all together and they rehearsed, Diane used to sing out of her nose. He used to really criticize her; he didn't realize that was really an asset. He was getting after her, saying, 'Look Diane, I want you to sing from here (she taps her chest).'"

The manager briefly replaced Ross with Ballard, because he didn't feel Ross' voice was commercial enough. "But I liked it! I always did like Diane's voice," Jenkins says. "I said, 'This is a unique sound; nobody else sounds like this.' "

It may seem surprising to fans that Jenkins speaks so highly of both Ross and Wilson.

"I know there's a lot of people who want me to throw some dirt, but I can't do that," Jenkins says. "Diane Ross and Mary Wilson are family to me; they're like sisters. We were there from the start.

"Diane is a very compassionate person. She takes a lot after her mother. And that's the side that very few people get to see. I know what Diane Ross was to me, the one I knew and grew up with, that I ran around with and tried to help her mother make costumes (for the Primettes), and that Diane Ross was a very compassionate person."

Contrary to common belief, Jenkins says after Ballard was forced out of the Supremes and fell on hard times back in Detroit, Ross helped her over the years.

"Florence from her own lips told me that she found out that Diane sent her a check to help pay her house note," Jenkins says. "I asked her what happened to it, and Florence said 'I never got it.' "

The check from Ross was intercepted. Jenkins says she found out by whom, but won't disclose that. She says Ross also sent checks every year to Ballard's three daughters, after her death.

One of Ballard's brothers spoke out critically about Ross some years back, but Jenkins says his statement did not reflect the Ballard family's feelings. "And even after what he said, Diane didn't stop sending the checks," she says.

"Diane and Mary need to read my book because they need to see what she was going through. She never gave up on them. She was sad, she was disappointed, but she never stopped loving them like sisters. All that she said to them, all that she did, she still loved them like sisters."

'She never hated them'

In the mid-'60s, at the height of their fame, the three Supremes bought handsome brick houses on the same street, Buena Vista, on Detroit's west side.

"That tells you something, about what their relationship was like," Jenkins says. "People would prefer to believe that at the end Florence hated them. No, she didn't. I'm here to tell you, she never hated them. She was disappointed, she was hurt, she felt like they should have been there more for her but hate? No."

Ballard had a brief post-Motown solo career on ABC Records, but it sputtered, her husband, Tommy Chapman, left her, and she lost the pretty brick house on Buena Vista. Ballard and her three daughters (Michelle, Nicole and Lisa) had to move in with Jenkins for three months.

Ballard might have been down, but Jenkins insists she wasn't out. She describes a visit the sisters made one day to the welfare office, when Ballard's famed humor was on full display.

"As we were sitting there waiting, the lady came out and she called, 'Gladys Knight!' Florence jumped up and said, 'Well, I'll be damned! Gladys Knight is here!' She started looking all around, and of course it turned out, it was someone else with the same name. She laughed all the way home about that. She said, 'Boy, I thought for sure that Gladys Knight was there in the welfare office, too.' "

Jenkins was there when her sister died, and to hear her describe Ballard's last days is to be reminded of the passion and heartbreak Hudson channels when she sings "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" in "Dreamgirls."

"My sister still had that Florence Ballard in her, that 'I'm not going to let anyone keep me down, I'm not going to roll over, I'm not going to lay down and die, I'm going to fight to the end,' " Jenkins says. "And she did fight. The public needs to know that she fought to the end."

You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or swhitall@det news.com.
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Reply #1 posted 07/30/07 4:21pm

Timmy84

Thanks, I read this on a Motown fan site I'm a member of. smile It's supposedly out now.

Go here: http://www.maxineballard.com

Least I think that's the right name. lol
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Reply #2 posted 07/30/07 5:02pm

funkpill

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Interesting reading...


nod
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Reply #3 posted 07/30/07 10:07pm

MsLegs

funkpill said:

Interesting reading...

Co-sign.
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