In early August 76, we spent the weekend with my mother’s sister and her family, who lived near Dayton, OH. Amy and I spent a good chunk of Saturday helping my cousins Mark and Suzanne (four and two years my senior), along with the youth at their church, with a paper drive (has anybody conducted one of those since the 70s?), lugging bundle upon bundle of newsprint into a semi-trailer. After church, dinner, and a lazy afternoon the following day, we packed up and pointed south on I-75 toward Walton. We were still in Ohio when time came to crank up AT40 on WSAI on the car radio. I was pretty surprised to hear Sonny Melendrez, filling in for Casey, announcing that the act kicking off the show was the Supremes. Even though I was just 12, I knew that their heyday was well in the past—I had no clue there was an incarnation still recording. Through the magic of today’s rebroadcasts, I’ve learned some about the extent to which Diana Ross’s departure in early 70 was not quite an immediately fatal blow.
The new lead singer was Jean Terrell, and for the first couple of years, she, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong had decent chart success: seven AT40 hits, two of which hit the Top 10. I guess I didn’t hear any of them enough at the time to make an impression, so it’s only been in the last five years I’ve made a real acquaintance with their electric collaboration with the Four Tops, a cover of “River Deep—Mountain High.” Another fun discovery has been this week’s highest debuting song, “Stoned Love;” it’s coming in at #22 and would reach #7, the best they did without Diana. I’ve gotta say it’s pretty darn awesome.
Ongoing turnover in personnel began in the spring of 72, and the hits, already not quite as big, dried up. The song I heard that August 76 afternoon, “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking,” would be the eighth and final time the Supremes made the Top 40 post-Ross. (It spent just that one week on the show; I can’t imagine I’d heard it since until I started writing this up. It doesn’t strike me today as anything I need to go back and hear too often.) The act by that time consisted of Wilson, Scherrie Payne, and Susaye Greene. The end, as it turns out, was nigh. A final, farewell concert took place in June 77.