“As of tonight, one of the greatest attractions of the 60s becomes two of the greatest attractions of the 70s.”
January 14, 1970.
At 11:54 p.m., Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong took the stage at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada for their final performance as Diana Ross and The Supremes. Only nine years earlier, Ross and Wilson had signed with Motown Records (along with their friends and singing partners Florence Ballard and Barbara Martin), and went on to literally change the course of popular music history. With twelve #1 pop singles, three #1 albums, iconic television appearances and sell-out live engagements, The Supremes effectively eradicated barriers for both women and African-Americans in the music industry, setting new benchmarks that artists would still be trying to match fifty years later.
“[The] three of us had created the Supremes; we’d made ourselves into our image of what we could be, in our homemade dresses and fake pearls. Now, here Diane and I were, dripping in real diamonds and adorned in black velvet and pearls by Bob Mackie. And this was the end.” (Mary Wilson, Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme)
Diana’s impending departure had been announced in November of 1969, along with the news that singer Jean Terrell would be joining the group in her place. In fact, plans for Ross to go solo had been in the works for quite some time, and Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong had been recording with Terrell for several months. The unique qualities that Diana Ross brought to the group as a vocalist and performer were undeniable and obvious from the very beginning; her voice — crisp and compelling and totally modern — had led a whopping 25 singles to the Top 40. So it was only natural that the singer would eventually break away from the group to pursue other opportunities, just as it made sense that The Supremes would continue with a new addition, someone who could restore harmony to a group that had been lopsided in focus for quite some time.
“I guess I hadn’t been completely ready yet. But I finally was ready. Ready to try something different, to give myself a new set of expectations about what I wanted in life, what would make me happy, how I wanted to behave. Ready to take responsibility for my own life, to be in charge of my own destiny.” (Diana Ross, Secrets Of A Sparrow)
“After years of hard work, I felt I was embarking on another wonderful adventure. I had been blessed to have been in the Supremes the first time; now it could happen all over again.” (Mary Wilson, Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme)
And so Ross, Wilson, and Birdsong took the stage at the Frontier for the final time on January 14, 1970, likely filled more with optimism and hope for the future than with sadness at the closing of this chapter of their careers. The resultant album, titled Farewell (recorded over several nights during the Frontier engagement, then pieced together by producer Deke Richards), certainly displays the group at its giddy best, with an expansive lineup of hits, standards, and Broadway showtunes performed by The Supremes with exuberance and slick sophistication. Perhaps tellingly, the ladies are looser and more relaxed than on any of their previous live albums; however tightly-rehearsed it all might have been, the jokes and banter all sound off-the-cuff, resulting in an extremely enjoyable listening experience. Farewell is the best live set released by the group, and remains one of the single most enjoyable Supremes albums from start to finish; when Diana Ross says “We’re gonna swing right on outta here,” she means it.
1. T.C.B.: This is the best opening number of any Supremes live set, and possibly of any Diana Ross solo live set, too; no song better builds a sense of anticipation and excitement than this one, which had originally served as the title song for the 1968 television special of the same name featuring Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations. The long drum roll and piano vamp at the beginning must have been thrilling to the crowd sitting in the audience that night, and the audience hearty applauds the eventual appearance of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong. All three women come on strong right from the start; Diana’s delivery is so crisp and clear that she seems to be singing straight into the listener’s ear, and Mary and Cindy back her up with a brassy confidence. The electricity that these three women generate is still astounding all these years later; Gil Askey’s band matches them note-for-note, with special honors going to the frantic bass player whose fingers seem to be moving at warp speed. This is classy entertainment at its very finest; any worries that Diana Ross and The Supremes might coast through their final performance are dashed right away.
2. Medley (Stop! In The Name Of Love/Come See About Me/My World Is Empty Without You/Baby Love): As they did on the TCB television special and soundtrack, The Supremes immediately segue from the “Stop! Whatever you’re doing…” lyric of the title track to their #1 hit, “Stop! In The Name Of Love.” As with recent recordings on Live At London’s Talk Of The Town and TCB, the arrangement here bears little resemblance to Motown; this is a breathlessly-paced, splashy reimagining of the song which remains the group’s signature recording. Ross certainly doesn’t sound like a weak-willed woman desperately clinging to her man anymore; her performance is full of swagger, as though the entire “Think it over” refrain is really just an ironic joke. Still, the singer is in fine voice and effortlessly matches the band’s charging energy, and Cindy Birdsong in particular offers tuneful support behind her. Next, the group steps back in time to its third #1 hit, “Come See About Me.” The ladies only sing about thirty seconds of the song, but they sound great doing it; the faster arrangement here brings out the gospel undertones of the song, even when it’s all dressed up in big-band razzle-dazzle. Next up comes the late-1965 release “My World Is Empty Without You,” notable due to the extra emphasis on background vocals here (they’re nearly impossible to hear on the original recording), and finally, the medley wraps up with Diana’s distinctive “Oooooh” sound, signaling the 1964 smash hit “Baby Love.” Again, the song sounds like a very distant relative of the one released all this years ago, but it’s to the credit of songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland (who penned every single one of these songs) that it works as well as it does even in such a different context. There remains something irresistible about “Baby Love,” not to mention Diana’s delivery of its sweet lyrics. Although the singer’s voice had greatly matured over the years, deepening and becoming brassier, her crisp urgency remains intact, and serves all of these songs well. Motown purists won’t be crazy about the snazzy updates to each of these songs (or the fact that each one is so truncated), but it’s hard not to be impressed at how much great hit material The Supremes recorded during just a few short years.
3. Medley (The Lady Is A Tramp/Let’s Get Away From It All): This is one of the best moments of the entire set, an absolutely uproarious and jaw-droppingly energetic version of the medley first featured on the 1968 LP Live At London’s Talk Of The Town. It was a showstopping moment on that album, and incredibly, it’s even better here; the vocal expertise displayed by all three Supremes is stunning. Gil Askey’s swinging band is on fire by this point, with blaring horns and a twinkling piano providing exactly the kind of classy accompaniment the song needs. Ross, meanwhile, offers up some of the best live singing of her career, letting her voice naturally grow in strength and power throughout the medley’s three-and-a-half minutes, finally letting loose with hurricane-force belting in the song’s final few notes. And Mary and Cindy match her intensity; Wilson particularly shines, hooting and hollering behind Ross, tossing out one-liners and providing thick, hearty background vocals. Listening to this medley, it’s clear why Diana Ross and The Supremes reached the level of success they did; all of the Motown female singing groups were talented, and added something unique to the label, but The Supremes were simply in a class of their own. The clarity of tone, the precision and personality, and the wild energy of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Cindy Birdsong remain unparalleled.
4. Monologue (Diana Ross): After nearly ten straight minutes of high-octane singing, Diana Ross finally takes a moment to welcome the audience and acknowledge “the last show for Diana Ross and The Supremes.”
5. Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone: Next, the ladies quickly move into a hit that Diana misidentifies as being from 1965 (it was actually recorded in 1966 and released in early 1967); “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” became the ninth #1 hit for the group, and remains perhaps the most theatrical of the group’s singles. The performance here is a bit too rushed and tightly-orchestrated to truly capture the magic of the original recording; the studio version’s baroque track is replaced by a wash of instruments that doesn’t sound distinctive nor worthy of the song’s dramatic origins. I wish “In And Out Of Love” had been placed here instead; although that song wasn’t as big of a hit, it was beautifully done by the group on Live At London’s Talk Of The Town and better lent itself to live performance. Still, it’s hard to complain about any performance of a hit song by Diana Ross and The Supremes; certainly the ladies provide the requisite energy and style to their reading of this classic tune.
6. I’m Gonna Make You Love Me: Next comes a real treat, as this is the only recorded live performance of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Diana Ross and The Supremes (aside from a version by Ross and Stevie Wonder on Motown At The Hollywood Palace). The song had been a big hit for The Supremes and The Temptations in late 1968; unfortunately, the groups had taped their joint television special TCB before the single was released, which meant it was left off of the broadcast program and the resulting soundtrack album. Of all the hits performed during this Farewell show, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is closest in arrangement to its original recording; the pace isn’t altered quite as much, and the band does a great job replicating the quiet dreaminess of the studio track. Without Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations present to deliver his verse, Diana takes the entire lead here, and she sounds sublime; this is a song that is well within her comfort zone, allowing her to give a soulful, relaxed performance. I absolutely love her little ad-libs, from her “No tricks!” at 1:08 to her breathy moan at 1:57 coming out of the bridge. These little stylistic choices are what make Ross such a unique vocalist; she has an innate sense of phrasing and timing, something she’d further develop during her solo career.
7. Monologue (Mary Wilson): For the first time on a Supremes live set, Mary Wilson speaks! Ms. Wilson delivers a cute introduction where she builds up a special guest singer “brought to you at a great expense…me.”
8. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You: Also for the first time on a Supremes live album, someone other than Diana Ross takes the lead vocal on a selection. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was first included in duet form between Mary Wilson and Eddie Kendricks on the 1969 LP Together, and incorporated into the group’s live act as a solo spot for Mary. Wilson performed a stellar version of the song on an episode of “The Hollywood Palace” hosted by Diana Ross and The Supremes, and she does it again here, turning the Frankie Valli hit into a simmering, sultry torch song showcasing her misty alto. Although Mary had led several album cuts over the years (beginning with “Baby Don’t Go” on 1962’s Meet The Supremes) and always rose to the occasion, this is perhaps her very best recorded performance of the Ross/Supremes era; the vocal control and confidence she displays here are astounding. Listen to the way her voice caresses the lyric “You’d be like heaven…to touch” at :26, and then again at 1:06, as she purrs, “Ohhhh…and there are no words left to speak” — there is no doubt that’s she’s grown tremendously as a vocalist since her work on early Supremes cuts. The final minute of the song kicks into high gear, with the familiar swinging “I love you, baby!” refrain, and Wilson, Birdsong, and Ross really belt it out, bringing the number to a satisfying conclusion. Although by this time Jean Terrell had already been named as Diana’s replacement in The Supremes, performances like this one prove Mary Wilson was ready for more time in the spotlight. Thankfully, producers would take note, and her role in the group would increase substantially over the next several years.
9. Dialogue (Diana Ross & Mary Wilson): Here’s a brief, fun little transition in which Diana and Mary “fight” over the microphone. Although tensions might have been running high behind the scenes, both ladies are effective enough as actresses to make the little scene sounds playful and natural.
10. Reflections: The first disc’s first side comes to a close with this, a performance of the group’s 1967 #2 hit, and a song that was previous included on Live At London’s Talk Of The Town. I wasn’t crazy about the arrangement on that album, which strayed so far from the original recording that it didn’t really sound like the same song. I like it better here, although it’s also quite removed from the studio version featured on Reflections. That recording’s strange, psychedelic effects really couldn’t be replicated in a live performance, so instead the song becomes a toe-tapping, jazzy number with strumming electric guitar and almost mariachi-styled horns during the refrain. The Talk Of The Town performance of this song really showcased strong background vocals from Mary Wilson, who nearly turned the song into a duet between herself and Diana Ross; what’s evident this time around is how much Birdsong’s confidence has grown, and now it’s her voice that emerges as the most prominent behind Diana’s. The way Cindy’s voice rides the background line is really quite lovely, and further proof of her own unique talent.
11. My Man: This is a fascinating inclusion on Farewell, as it marks the first time we’re hearing Diana Ross sing a song that would figure prominently into her solo career. Miss Ross introduces this as a song “written for a lady by the name of Fanny Brice” — Brice, of course, was the subject of the Broadway musical Funny Girl, and “My Man” was added to the film version as an emotional finale to be sung by Barbra Streisand. Just a few years later, Berry Gordy, Jr. and Gil Askey would do the exact same thing for Diana’s film vehicle Lady Sings The Blues, in which she starred as singer Billie Holiday, placing the song at the end of movie and emphasizing it as a dramatic high point. Diana’s accomplished reading of “My Man” on the Lady soundtrack is a staggering piece of artistry; it’s one of her great all-time performances, a deeply-felt delivery that showcases both the power and the vulnerability in her voice. The version here, although not particularly different in arrangement, serves a different purpose; without being bolstered by Holiday’s dramatic storyline, it becomes more of a traditional ballad, lacking the melancholy so prevalent in later versions. It’s interesting to hear how much Diana’s abilities would develop in just a few short years; although she easily hits all the notes here and adds in many of the vocal flourishes she’d keep for the film, this is more of a “surface” performance. It’s pretty and it’s showy; it’s certainly impressive in the context of the surrounding material. But there’s a different kind of artistry in her 1972 recording of the song; there’s a depth and maturity in her voice that adds so much more complexity. Taken on its own terms here, “My Man” is a highlight of the show. However, it also makes a great case for how much more intuitive of an interpreter Diana Ross would become over the next few years; as Billie Holiday, her reading of “My Man” is heartbreaking.
12. Didn’t We: As with the previous selection, this number is performed by Diana Ross alone; it’s another slow torch number that gives the singer a chance to really dig into some material and take her time interacting with the audience. “Didn’t We” was written by the great Jimmy Webb and initially recorded by Richard Harris; it would later famously be done by Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, among others. The song’s structure smartly echoes its lyric about a “long uphill climb” with a series of upward musical steps; Ross uses this progression as a guide for her performance, letting her vocal grow in intensity until the song’s climax. Her crystal-clear voice lands on each and every note like a drop of water, and she transmits a real vulnerability through her tone; listen to the way she sounds choked with emotion on the line “Didn’t we almost make it…” at 2:20. For me, the highlight comes at the end of the song, as she wordlessly ad-libs for about 45 seconds; there’s a real passion and earthiness that comes through in her voice here, and it’s rewarded with a huge ovation from the audience. This performance is a triumph for Miss Ross; the song is such a good fit for her that it’s a shame she never recorded it for a studio album.
13. It’s Alright With Me: Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong return to the stage and join Diana Ross for a swinging rendition of this classic Cole Porter tune. After the previous two ballads — both big, dramatic statements on the misery of love — “It’s Alright With Me” serves to lighten the mood and let off a little steam. Gil Askey’s band offers up a twinkling instrumental, upon which the vocals seem to dance; it’s impressive the way Diana Ross is able to shake off the emotion of the past two songs and effortlessly sound so carefree again. Likewise, Mary Wilson and especially Cindy Birdsong provide sophisticated “responses” behind Ross; for whatever reason, Cindy’s voice really seems to shine on this song, her smooth soprano ringing clear as a bell. Although “It’s Alright With Me” isn’t the most distinctive or memorable addition to the group’s live repertoire, it’s a good bridge between the drama of “Didn’t We?” and the sexual energy of the next selection…
14. Big Spender: This is one of the most fun moments of Farewell, a very sexy version of a song which found fame as part of the 1966 Broadway musical Sweet Charity. Diana Ross and The Supremes were many things in their music over the years — sweet, sincere, urgent, desperate — but rarely were they ever very suggestive. That changes here, as they playfully deliver musical come-ons including “I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see” and “I can show you a good time.” They seem to be having a ball, especially Diana; she grunts a few times (joking, “Thought I was James Brown for a minute!”) and laughs with some members of the audience, and I love her high-note “yoo-hoo!” at 1:27. In the past, some of the standards performed by The Supremes in concert and during televised performances were a little too monotonous and saccharine (i.e. “More” and “The Boy From Ipanema”), and it’s nice to have a number like this instead, which allows the ladies to show some personality and have a little fun (…fun…fun…).
15. Falling In Love With Love: Mary Wilson takes center stage again, serving up a delicious take on a song she first recorded on The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart back in 1967. “Falling In Love With Love” was one of the clear highlights of that album, featuring stellar vocal interplay between Wilson and Diana Ross; here, Mary gets the spotlight alone. The pace is really quickened here; Mary races through the song, her voice swiftly bouncing over the melody without ever bogging it down. Although the singer’s misty voice was the perfect blending tool for harmonizing, Wilson was also capable of impressive power during her vocal performances; listen to her wailing at 1:37, and it’s obvious how much strength she possesses. Although it doesn’t rival the sheer perfection the studio version from ’67, this is another fine moment for the group; as with “Can’t Take Me Eyes Off You,” it’s fitting that Mary Wilson gets some recognition after nearly a decade of important but often underrated contributions to Motown and The Supremes.
16. Love Child: After five non-Motown songs in a row, Farewell finally gets back to basics with this, a live version of the group’s monster #1 hit from 1968. As good as the showtunes and standards are — and as important as they clearly are to the group’s legacy — let’s be honest, the dearth of actual hits can be a little irritating on Supremes live sets. So, it’s nice to get a full version of “Love Child” here (especially since it came out after the group’s other live albums, and thus isn’t on them), even though the orchestration bears more resemblance to “Tears Of A Clown” than the actual studio recording. Diana introduced this as “the song our managers told us would never make it” — likely not a true statement, considering Berry Gordy, Jr. had a hand in writing it and rush-released it because it sounded so hot. Still, “Love Child” was a major departure for the group when it was released, dealing with the then-controversial subject matter of children born out-of-wedlock and featuring a harder, more soulful edge than previous releases. Here, that edge is totally sanded down; as expected, the song douses any chance of a simmer with big-band touches and a breathless tempo. It’s nice to hear Wilson and Birdsong on the background vocals, since the original single featured The Andantes instead; that said, one does miss the thicker, fuller sound featured on the studio version. Meanwhile, Diana offers up a lively, engaged vocal; it’s certainly not a searing performance like the one she minted in the studio, but she charges through it with a different kind of intensity, and doesn’t skimp on the famous ad-libs at the song’s conclusion. “Love Child” doesn’t exactly lend itself to a Vegas treatment, but again, it’s always nice to hear The Supremes sing one of the songs they made famous.
17. Monologue (Diana Ross): Here, Diana takes some time to introduce the women that go “way, way back” for The Supremes — the mothers. It becomes a comical moment when Diana’s mother turns out to be missing from the audience, prompting some jokes that Mrs. Ross is probably gambling instead of watching the show. Ross also introduces Smokey Robinson (with his wife, Claudette), quipping, “You lost all your money, that’s why you’re here, right?”
18. Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures): This is the centerpiece of the Farewell album, a staggering fifteen-minute performance of the famous medley from the Broadway musical Hair during which Diana Ross leaves the stage and coerces the star-studded audience to sing along with her. This is something for which Miss Ross would become famous; during her solo career, “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” would become her crowd-participation number, allowing her to demonstrate the incredible warmth and skill she possesses as a performer. However, never was this stunt better employed than it is here; the effortless way in which Diana controls the crowd and compels them to do her bidding is incredible, and is the final piece of definitive proof that the singer was ready for a solo career. Diana, Mary, and Cindy begin by racing through the first half of the medley, with Ross finally breaking out and crossing the footlights after a few repetitions of “Let The Sunshine In.” First up, she calls on Billy Davis to dance with her; Davis was a longtime friend of Berry Gordy, Jr., and a man Diana and Mary refer to as their “dancing partner.” Eventually, she weaves her way back to Smokey and Claudette Robinson; Smokey softly croons the refrain in his sweet, distinctive style, followed by his wife (who, it should be noted, was also a member of The Miracles). Diana then makes a note to stop at the Gordy table, calling out Anna, Gwen, and Esther as her “sisters” and allowing them to laugh through a few lines with her. But it’s Anna’s husband who get the most attention; the one and only Marvin Gaye takes the mic next, and delivers a stirring rendition of “Let The Sunshine In” that sounds like it could have been released as a single that very day. Seriously, in only about twenty seconds of singing, Mr. Gaye seems to deliver an entire hit song; the audience reaction tells the story, as there seems to be a collective gasp and then a wave of cheering. The next celebrity target isn’t quite so pitch-perfect, but Dick Clark playfully moans “Oh, yeah!” a few times before Diana moves on to the legendary Lou Rawls, who expertly lends his throaty vocals to a few refrains. Steve Allen cracks up the crowd with some silly ad-libs, and Diana helps out Bill Russell for a moment; finally the singer begins to wind her way back to the stage, stopping again to let Marvin Gaye and Lou Rawls get a few more moments behind the microphone. While all of this is going on, Mary and Cindy are wailing behind her; Cindy’s brief solo at 12:49 is probably the most powerful singing she’d put on record thus far in her Supremes career. The actual live performance likely went on far longer than the nearly sixteen minutes included on this album; producer Deke Richards finally just fades it down to an end. It’s fun to hear all the star cameos, and certainly a joy to hear Mary and Cindy having such a good time on stage, but the real attraction is Diana Ross. She is totally in command, clearly captivating the audience and allowing others to bask in the glow of the spotlight without ever eclipsing her role as mistress of ceremonies. What Diana Ross displays here is that rare, intangible thing — real star power. If it accomplished nothing else (and, fortunately, it does), Farewell would be an important album simply for capturing that essence.
19. Monologue (Diana Ross): This is a “fake out” moment, with Diana pretending the show is over; of course, the audience cries out for more, and Ross introduces the next song, “one that can kind of explain the things that have happened to us over the last couple of years.”
20: The Impossible Dream: No song could be more appropriate for Diana Ross and The Supremes to sing than this one; a soaring, triumphant ballad lifted from Man Of La Mancha, this is a song of fighting toward a goal with single-minded fierceness and making one’s dreams come true. This is what The Supremes had done over the past decade; with a poised determination to become stars, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Cindy Birdsong had surpassed every expectation, achieving a success so grand in scale that many critics and music historians still can’t quite comprehend it. Television icon Oprah Winfrey would put it best years later, when she told Diana Ross, “For me, being a 10-year-old girl, watching you and having dreams…I carried that dream inside me for years because there wasn’t anybody who was on television who looked like me and that night that we all saw you, I think around the world…our hearts lit up with the possibility of what it meant to be a little black girl” (“The Oprah Winfrey Show,” February 25, 2011). Here, the group delivers a wholly convincing message about their fight to reach the top, and their voices are in peak form; it’s hard not to be moved as the ladies sing, “This is my quest/To follow that star.”
21. Monologue (Diana Ross): This is a brief ovation interlude, as Askey’s band plays a slowed down version of “I Hear A Symphony” and the audience cheers for more. Of course, the group is going to oblige; Diana, Mary, and Cindy hadn’t performed their most recent #1 hit yet…
22: Someday We’ll Be Together: …and, here it is, the song which brought Diana Ross and The Supremes back to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the twelfth and final time. This is a terrific performance of the song, too; considering the studio version is a seamless mix of pop, soul, gospel, and folk, it’s astounding how well it translates to the Vegas stage. Appropriately, for the final recorded performance featuring Diana, Mary, and Cindy together, all three ladies sing with great feeling, and each displays the qualities that makes her voice unique. Diana’s lead is crisp and relaxed; her voice dances comfortably onto each note, never lingering too long. Behind her, Mary loudly projects her brassy alto, and she takes on many of the encouraging ad-libs which had been delivered by Johnny Bristol on the recorded version; Cindy’s bell-like soprano, meanwhile, rides high atop the harmonies, sweetening the performance. As with the earlier “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” the ladies really take their time here; Diana delivers some lovely sentiments to the audience, including, “In the next coming year, Mary and Cindy and I won’t be together, but we’ll always be together in our hearts” and heartfelt calls for racial harmony and the end of the Vietnam War. She also entices the audience to sing along with her, and they do; hearing the entire room singing the song in unison is quite a striking and moving moment, and it’s a fitting end to the career of Diana Ross and The Supremes. After all, that’s what the group had been doing over the past several years — creating music the entire world could sing along to.
23. Closing Dialogue (Diana Ross and The Supremes): United Stated Senator Howard Cannon of Nevada kicks off this closing pomp and circumstance, reading a telegram from TV host Ed Sullivan which states in part, “As of tonight, one of the greatest attractions of the 60s becomes two of the greatest attractions of the 70s.” Sullivan’s telegram does contain some cringe-worthy statements (those in the audience aware of the group’s long-running internal struggles must have winced at the mention of “backstabbing and hypocrisy”), but his words about the ladies having achieved the American Dream certainly ring true, considering their humble beginnings. Next up comes Frontier Hotel entertainment director Frank Sennes, who provides another cringe-worthy moment by focusing attention almost entirely on Diana Ross, announcing that “we all predict that you will be the greatest star of our time” before adding a perfunctory “and The Supremes will continue being the stars that they are” (wouldn’t you love to know what Mary and Cindy were thinking in that moment?). Sennes then presents the ladies with gold watches, and the hotel’s general manager joins the stage to present a Frontier Hotel Wall of Fame plaque. Finally, Diana Ross brings Jean Terrell onto the stage for an ovation; Terrell, of course, is the woman who would replace Ross in The Supremes, and had already been recording with Mary and Cindy for quite some time. It’s truly a “passing of the torch” (or, in this case, passing of the microphone) moment, and a touching way to end the album.
By the time Farewell was released in April of 1970, everybody involved had moved on to the next chapter…including the record-buying public. Faced with the choice between this live set and the first studio album by the “new” Supremes (also released in April), fans chose Right On, which easily beat Farewell on the charts. Meanwhile, Diana’s first solo single was also released in April, and while “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” wasn’t a monster hit, it set the stage for her spectacular follow-up, the #1 anthem “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Indeed, in the first two or three years of the new decade, The Supremes and Diana Ross proved Ed Sullivan’s predictions correct; Jean, Mary, and Cindy remained the country’s top female singing trio, and Miss Ross continued her ascendency to music and movie superstardom.
But the lackluster showing of Farewell (which peaked at #46 on the Billboard 200) is disappointing, because it truly does capture Diana Ross and The Supremes at its very best. Although it lacks the raw excitement of At The Copa or the breathless precision of Live At London’s Talk Of The Town, the album is the best example yet of the group’s electric live presence and ability to connect with its audience. That it marks the end of a musical era makes it all the more significant. If the album sometimes feels a little overblown, it has a right to be; The Supremes are rarely given the credit they deserve for being trailblazers, but this lavish, double-LP set treats the group with the reverence and respect it deserves. Thirty years after the release of Farewell, Berry Gordy, Jr. would sum it up best: “I think their legacy is what they did for all people, but especially black people, in terms of class and style and how they carried themselves. The Supremes have a rich, powerful, meaningful legacy and they have affected many, many others who have come along since” (The Supremes box-set booklet).
Final Analysis: 5/5 (A Stunning End To The “Dream”)
Choice Cuts: “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures),” “Someday We’ll Be Together,” “Didn’t We”