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Fifty years ago this summer, the first hit single by the Supremes was climbing the Billboard Hot 100. “Where Did Our Love Go” reached the No. 1 spot by August, and the Motown trio continued to record for another 13 years with three different lead singers.
After Diana Ross left for a solo career, she was replaced by Jean Terrell, who split in 1973 and was, in turn, replaced by the group’s final lead singer, Scherrie Payne, who joined Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. Birdsong eventually left, making way for the very last Supreme, Susaye Greene. When Wilson departed after a final concert at the Drury Lane Theater in London on June 12, 1977, Motown’s plan was for Payne and Greene to find a new Supreme and carry on. But then label execs had a change of heart and decreed that without at least one original member, there would be no Supremes.
Payne and Greene were already writing new songs for what they thought would be the first Supremes set without Wilson. The project became a duets album produced by Gene McDaniels, known for his own pop hits in the ’60s and for producing Roberta Flack in the ’70s. Partners was released in 1979. Hardcore Supremes fans loved it, but it did not grace the Billboard charts.
Some of those fans showed up with vinyl copies of the LP at the Sheraton Gateway hotel near LAX Saturday night, hoping to get them signed by Payne and Greene at the first live performance of the songs from Partners.
They mixed with Motown royalty — including writer-producer Lamont Dozier, singer Tata Vega, Betty Kelly of Martha & the Vandellas and Hank Dixon and DeFrantz Forrest of the Originals, along with Scherrie’s sister Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”) and singer-songwriter Brenda Russell — for the live premiere of the Partners compositions.
Asked how the evening came about, Greene told The Hollywood Reporter, “After 20 Feet From Stardom won the Academy Award [former Motown and Stax artist], Mable John and I decided to do a series of shows. I asked if we could bring guests in, like Scherrie. And once Partners was released in Japan, I said we need to do some shows. I called Scherrie and asked and there was silence on the phone. Finally, she said, ‘Yes!’ I knew she would!”
Recently, Greene and Payne did separate sets at Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks, where they were joined by Vega, Charlotte Crossley (who opened for Payne and Greene at the Sheraton), Pattie Brooks and Fanita James of the Blossoms. The Partners concert Saturday night was the next logical step.
Greene confirmed to THR that this was the first live performance of multiple songs from the album.
“When it was released, we did one song live at a club in Hollywood and then we sang the single [‘Leaving Me Was the Best Thing You’ve Ever Done’] on The Mike Douglas Show. We never had the opportunity to do them all live. That’s why tonight is so special.”
In addition to the Partners selections, Payne and Greene reprised the final top 40 hit by the Supremes, “I’m Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking,” and the title song from its parent album, High Energy. Greene allowed herself a few minutes as a proud mother, bringing her talented son Daniel Hoyt Kenneth Coton onstage to do the spoken-word rap in “Children of the Ghetto,” a song she recorded with jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine for his album Journey to the Urge Within.
Also on stage: sisters Joyce Vincent Wilson and Pamela Vincent as backing singers. A former member of Tony Orlando and Dawn, Wilson has her own history with Payne and Greene. She was their first choice to join the Supremes after Mary Wilson left and she was a backing vocalist on Partners.
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