Pictured in Christmas mood in London in October 1964 (yes, October) are, from left, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross.
- Christmas held a special place in the hearts of Motown’s artists, musicians and staff during the early years, before its success and expansion made the “family” feeling more difficult to maintain. In his autobiography, Berry Gordy recalled holding the company’s first holiday party in the basement recording studio of 2648 West Grand Boulevard in 1960, which was, he wrote, also the first time that he caught sight and sound of Marvin Gaye. At another Christmas celebration, Robert Gordy, brother of the boss, “dressed up as Santa Claus and went around handing out our first bonuses to employees.” That was also the occasion when a “Motown Spirit” award” was presented to the person “who most exemplified what Motown was about,” Gordy reminisced.
- Christmas was a time for work, too. At Detroit’s Fox Theater, Motown would stage an annual holiday concert series with many of its stars. “Year after year,” Claudette Robinson of the Miracles remembered, “we decked the halls of the theatre with our family of Motown entertainers.” She added, “Even though we were working non-stop with multiple shows, we were blessed to be with our family and friends, and they were afforded the opportunity to see us do a live performance.” Similarly, Little Stevie Wonder worked during Christmas 1963 – in Paris, where he appeared as part of a holiday concert package at the city’s famous Olympia theatre, together with French, British and other American stars.
- The closing weeks of that same year, 1963, gave the Supremes something to celebrate: they were enjoying their first substantial hit single, “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” which was climbing the Billboard Hot 100 (it broke into the Top 40 during Christmas week). Moreover, Motown had just released their debut album, Meet The Supremes, in early December. But the year ahead was to be even more exciting, and by the time of Christmas ’64, life was very different: Diana, Mary and Florence had three consecutive No. 1 records to their credit at home, and two breakthrough hits abroad. During October 1964, to capitalise on the British popularity of “Where Did Our Love Go” and “Baby Love” – the latter was Motown’s first No. 1 there – the Supremes jetted to London for a round of promotional activities.
- The photos taken during that October visit are among the most iconic of the Supremes’ career: in particular, shots of the threesome dressed in snappy suits (and ties!) while brandishing umbrellas at the London headquarters of EMI Records, Motown’s U.K. affiliate. Another London portrait of the group graced the cover of their A Little Bit Of Liverpool album, released by Motown soon after the photo shoot. EMI also seized the opportunity to photograph the Supremes in holiday mood, even though it was fall. The record company organized a shoot – as shown above – with the young women sitting by a Christmas tree, surrounded by vinyl singles and albums, and a record player. With the picture planned for promotional use during the holidays, Diana, Mary and Florence posed with such albums as The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles, A Portrait Of Mr. T (American trombonist Jack Teagarden) and Brian Hyland’s Country Meets Folk. EMI shipped Meet The Supremes to record stores across Britain shortly before Christmas 1964.
- One year later, Motown released the Supremes’ very own holiday album, Merry Christmas in the U.S., and fans could celebrate with such standards as “White Christmas,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as well as originals created by the Hitsville U.S.A. team. Diana, Mary and Florence had recorded the material in the summer of 1965 – a tough time to get into the Christmas spirit – but it was apparently worth it. The album reached the Top 10 of the Billboard “Best Bets for Christmas” chart, and repeated the trick in subsequent years. An expanded edition of the album is a new 2017 release from Motown/Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records. Happy Christmas!