From Primettes to Supremes
The Motortown Revue
In November 1962, the Supremes joined other Motown artists on a tour called the Motortown Revue. The revue was notable because it toured through southern states where segregation was still a reality. In the places the tour was headed, blacks still had separate water fountains and bathrooms, and they were forced to sit at the backs of public buses. At first, Gordy did not want the Supremes to go on the tour because they were so young. Diane Ross talked him into letting them go. She was determined that the Supremes get as much exposure to new audiences as any of the other Motown artists.
When the girls had traveled in the past, they were often accompanied by one of their mothers. For the Motortown Revue, Gordy made certain the Supremes had a chaperone. The chaperone's job was to make sure that the Supremes were protected from sexual advances and that they acted like ladies.
Even with a chaperone, the trip was a hard one. Flo, Diane, and Mary experienced racism as never before. Diane later said, “In some of those Southern towns, you could just feel the bigotry in the air. You could slice it with a knife like stinking cheese.” Despite the progress of civil rights laws, there were plenty of towns that ignored the law. In some towns, sheriffs with dogs confronted the performers. After one performance, someone fired gunshots at their tour bus! Fortunately, no one was hurt. Though Motown's music was slowly breaking down some barriers, it was clear that for much of the country, racism was still the norm.
The highlight of the tour was the final concert at New York's Apollo Theater. The Apollo was a famous concert hall for black performers. The audiences could be very cruel; if they didn't like a performer, they would boo until the emcee pulled the act off the stage with a giant hook. The Supremes had no problem impressing the New Yorkers and left the stage with the audience cheering for more!