During the 1960’s when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones began dominating the music scene this side of the Atlantic Ocean in America, American groups like The Supremes were answering back on the other side in Great Britain. As America embraced the ‘British invasion,’ Britain embraced America’s music – particularly the sound of Motown.
As Motown’s ‘flagship’ pop group, The Supremes were riding high on a wave of Top Ten hits with songs like ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ ‘Stop In The Name Of Love,’ ‘Come See About Me,’ and ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On,’ British fan Jim Saphin started their very first off-shore fan club.
‘Motown Jim Saphin,’ as he is known, whose e-mail address contains ‘DiMarFlo’ (as in Diana, Mary, and Florence [original members]) ran the fan club from 1966 to 1970, and over the years has collected more memorabilia (probably) only second to Detroit’s Motown Museum itself.
Since his retirement from British Airways as a flight attendant, Saphin has continued to help preserve the legacy of The Supremes. He still holds up the banner for the groups’ original members as well as the latter day Supremes: Jean Terrell, Scherrie Payne, Lynda Laurence, Cindy Birdsong, and Susaye Greene (two other members of the group – Betty McGlown and Barbara Martin – had left the group before they made it big).
Payne probably sums it up best for all the members saying, “Life was surreal back then. I never imagined that I would be traveling all over the world, meeting so many wonderful people. Several became, and still remain dear friends, like Jim Saphin in England…. I’ll forever treasure those memories of my moment in time as one of The Supremes. No one can ever take that away from me… I was there! God has been good to me.”
Saphin tells his story: “My admiration for Soul music began in the early 60s when I was in my early teens. Whilst my sister was listening to the likes of Elvis Presley, I was into Inez and Charlie Foxx, Carla Thomas and The Exciters. I also had a fascination for the girly groups and enjoyed listening to The Shirelles.
Then one day in 1963 I can remember hearing a record playing on the radio that blew my mind…“When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” by a group named The Supremes released on the Stateside label! I was instantly drawn to this magical sound. After the success of “Where Did Our Love Go” hitting the number one spot in the USA, The Supremes notched up consecutive No 1 records and in 1964 “Baby Love” hit the No 1 spot here in the UK and The Supremes had definitely made their mark. Diana Ross, the lead singer was envied for her torchy come-hither purr in her voice. Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard’s brilliant backing vocals together with superlative choreography made this trio a joy to watch. The Supremes fan club of Great Britain came into being early in 1966 with the dissolution of the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society of which I was a member. I became National President and Secretary of the Fan club for four years until I became a flight attendant with BOAC/British Airways in 1970. During my career with British airways in 1988 I fulfilled another ambition when I visited “Hitsville USA” on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. I was made very welcome and was given a grand tour of the building. It felt so very nostalgic when entering recording studio “A” of where it had all began. Imagining all of those big Motown acts recording those hits that we have all come to love and remember so well and when I set eyes on those three microphones in front of three stools, I was right there in the moment of where The Supremes had recorded the majority of their hits. I was also shown a passageway come restroom of where Mary and Flo would stand [for echo] to record the backups and hand claps to many of the hits that we know so well today.
I am so blessed to have remained dear friends with many of the eight Supremes in the various line-ups over the years especially Scherrie Payne and Cindy Birdsong who I love so very much.”
Saphin is currently a member of a local British amateur dramatic society where he has acted in many plays over the years.
Share now with Motown Jim a collection of ‘Supreme’ memories that he has just released on his new website at: http://www.jimsaphin.com/a-life-with-the-supremes/
BTW: Jim’s birthday is November 15! He says one of his happiest and most memorable moments was when Scherrie Payne flew all the way to the UK to perform and celebrate his birthday in 2007. Scherrie’s birthday, BTW, was November 4.