Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Supremes by Mark Ribowsky

As a culture, we just don’t seem to get sick of epic Motown girl group, The Supremes. We’ve had movies and television shows and, of course, books and books and books. None of this diminishes the pleasure of author Mark Ribowsky’s The Supremes (Da Capo). Nor, in some ways, does it diminish Ribowsky’s hubris: for himself and his chosen subjects. “[The Supremes] are the most important modern American music act after Elvis Presley, and this may well be the first real biography of them,” Ribowsky writes in his Introduction. Fair enough. Especially as he points out that this might have something to do with “the geology of female acts and gender-based assumptions of what is a ‘serious’ subject matter.”

As hinted at in these words, Ribowsky’s biography is no lightweight fan fluff. Rather, this is an intelligent biographic retrospective, worthy of any university press, but arguably more gripping. This is, after all, good stuff. From the girls’ 1960 audition for would-be starmaker Barry Gordy, to playing the Apollo and “living their dream” to the famous -- infamous -- riffs between the Supremes themselves that eventually led to their break-up.

As Ribowsky points out, “the Supremes’ saga has produced a good many fables, a convenient fallen dream girl in Diana Ross, and a heavy in Barry Gordy.” Good stuff, well handled. The Supremes: A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success, and Betrayal is a terrific book.

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