There are girl groups, and then there are the Supremes.
50 years ago, Florence Ballard, then 21, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson (both 20), became Motown’s brightest stars, notching their first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 dated Aug. 22, 1964, “Where Did Our Love Go.” During the next five years, 11 more chart-toppers followed, making the trio the American group with the most No. 1s in the chart’s history. The only group with more is England’s Beatles, with 20 (the most of any act).
The ladies were hardly an overnight success. Originally called the Primettes, they changed their name upon signing with Motown in 1961. By 1964, a succession of mediocre-selling singles had earned them the nickname the No-Hit Supremes at the label.
“Where Did Our Love Go,” a song rejected by the Marvelettes, quickly changed that perception.
“[Our world] changed because, at a time when it was an impossible dream for black people, we accomplished something,” Wilson told Billboard upon the 50th anniversary of the song’s reign. “It was a personal accomplishment but also an accomplishment for others. We started touring the world and every country we went to, we were introduced as ‘Motown’s Supremes.’ We helped put Motown on the map.”
Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967, and the group’s final chart-topper was “Someday We’ll Be Together,” on Dec. 27, 1969. It was the Supremes’ last single with Ross, who departed for a spectacular solo career, including six No. 1s among her 12 Hot 100 top 10s on her own.
Various incarnations of the Supremes continued until 1977.
A version of this article first appeared in the Aug. 23 issue of Billboard magazine