Barbara Martin, Early Supremes Member, Dead at 76

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The Primettes (early Supremes) with Barbara Martin at far left

Most Motown fans know that The Supremes—Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard—were one of the most popular acts in the label’s history, reeling off a long string of a dozen #1 hits starting in 1964 with “Where Did Our Love Go.” But prior to that, they were a quartet, originally called the Primettes. A singer who dropped out of the group before fame struck, Barbara Martin, died on March 4, 2020. No cause or place of death was cited in reports. Martin was 76.

Wilson said in a statement, “Our hearts go out to Barbara’s family and friends. Once a Supreme, always a Supreme.”

Martin, born Barbara Diane Martin Richardson in Detroit on June 1, 1943, wasn’t an original member of the Primettes, which formed in 1959. She replaced Betty McGlown, who left in 1960. Martin, along with the others, worked mostly for Motown as backup singers in the studio, and signed a contract with label head Berry Gordy Jr. as a recording act in January 1961, but they could not find success on their own.

After the name change to the Supremes, Martin sang on several tracks on the group’s debut album, Meet the Supremes, but her photo did not appear on the album’s cover. In October 1961, Martin became pregnant and she left the group in the spring of 1962.

Related: Our Album Rewind review of The Supremes A’ Go-Go

The early Supremes/Primettes, with Martin (seated)

Little is known about Martin’s tenure with the group, as she refused to give interviews after leaving and never made any public statements regarding her time with Ross, Wilson and Ballard.

As a trio, the Supremes became one of the most successful singing groups in pop and R&B history, following “Where Did Our Love Go” with other chart-toppers such as “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Keep Me Hanging On” and more. In 1967, Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross and the Supremes and the hits continued, including “Love Child” and “Someday We’ll Be Together,” their final #1, in 1969. Ballard was replaced and died in 1976. Ross left for a solo career in 1970 and remains a top entertainer today. The Supremes disbanded in 1976 but have subsequently re-formed with Wilson as lead and a series of other members coming and going.

Listen to “He’s Seventeen,” a track on the Supremes’ debut album that includes Barbara Martin

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