For One Night in 1965, the Supremes Brought the Two Detroits Together | Modern Society of USA

For One Night in 1965, the Supremes Brought the Two Detroits Together

For One Night in 1965, the Supremes Brought the Two Detroits Together

It’s a vision of two Detroits that have mostly faded now — the social set born of the American auto industry’s vast wealth and the galvanizing magic of ’60s Motown — together in a room.

In June 1965, the Supremes, one of America’s biggest and most glamorous groups, performed at a debutante party at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe, Mich., the posh all-white enclave just northeast of the city.

It was the debutante party of Christy Cole Wilson, and The New York Times pictures of the event tell a layered story of two groups connected, at least for the evening, by the music of that time and place.

The three elegant darlings of Detroit, led by the 21-year-old Diana Ross, serenade a room of finely attired guests, many of practically the same age. But between the groups were also the realities of race and class — the distance between Grosse Pointe and the Brewster projects where the Supremes grew up, 10 miles and several worlds away.

Not until the eighth paragraph did the story mention that “when they were not dancing and being entertained by a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Supremes, the Wilsons and their guests were polishing off 20 cases of French champagne, attempting to create a liquor shortage (the plot failed), and heaping their plates with food from an abundantly stocked buffet table.”

The trio hardly needed an identifier at that point. Between August 1964 and June 1965, the Supremes had five No. 1 singles, including “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again,” which had gone to the top of the charts just six days before this party. Which is exactly why Ms. Wilson’s parents hired them.

“Everyone had very glamorous deb parties when I was growing up,” said Ms. Wilson Hofmann, 72, who now lives in Bristol, R.I.

It was an era when families of distinction across the country presented their daughters to society, with the intention that suitable men from similar backgrounds would meet their future wives. In Grosse Pointe, it was the “Ford girls,” the great-granddaughters of Henry Ford, who had ramped up the deb-ball arms race. Nat King Cole sang at Charlotte Ford’s storied party in 1959, while Ella Fitzgerald performed at her sister Anne’s soiree in 1961.

Racial dynamics were changing in the 1960s, but often in fits and starts. The Supremes performing at a private club in Grosse Pointe, which still had no black residents, reflected this lurching progress.

“Music filtered in,” said Izzy Donnelly, the director of education at the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. “The ’60s were about breaking tradition. Bringing black entertainers to debutante balls and private clubs was putting a big foot in the front door.”

The Supremes were homegrown celebrities in Detroit and received star treatment, but there were black entertainers across the country still entering clubs and performance halls through the kitchen.

Source link