Friday, June 24, 2016


My love is yours, baby

Oh, right from the start
You, you, you posses my soul now, honey
And I know, I know you own my heart
And I wanna say it…

(Some sweet day)

We’ll be together 

Yes we will, yes we will

(From the song “Someday We’ll Be Together,” from the Diana Ross & The Supremes album Cream Of The Crop, 1969, composed by R. Beavers/J. Bristol/H. Fuqua)

y first experience seeing a Broadway play was in 1981 when my best friend Greg and I drove to New York to see the musical Dreamgirls. We slept in his red Volvo under a bridge near Christopher Street, (the famous New York City street known as a hub for gays and lesbians), since we couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel.

For a gay man in the 80’s, Dreamgirls offered everything on the attention menu. Filled with glamorous gowns, diva attitudes, dancing and disco, it was the thinly veiled story of the Supremes. I was living in Baltimore when news first broke that the show was opening, and Greg and I immediately purchased our tickets over the phone and waited anxiously for them to arrive in the mail.

Everyone we knew who had seen the show before us had nothing but wonderful accolades for it. It was that familiar story of three black girls and their rise to fame as singers in the early days of 60’s soul music. I had already seen the 1976 Irene Cara movie Sparkle, which was a favorite among black audiences for its loosely Supreme-like story.  As a die hard Supremes fan, finally seeing Dreamgirls was the moment I had been waiting for.
I knew that too much bad blood had passed between the Supremes over the years.  But I had given up on ever finding out the real drama behind it all.  The musical was going be as close to the truth as we fans would get to it in our lifetimes. From the first big musical number, “Move (You're Steppin’ On My Heart),” I was a ball of energy as I began uncovering parallels between the production and the history of the Supremes.  I kept jabbing Greg with my arm and telling him, “That song’s got to be ‘Stop in the Name of Love!’ And who are they fooling, ‘Dreamettes’ is just another way of saying ‘Primettes’!”

When they started singing “Heavy” I hollered, “That’s the Supremes song ‘My World is Empty Without You’!”  Finally, the lady sitting in front of me turned in her seat and said, “Obviously you know a lot about the story.” She was curious to know more.
During the intermission, I explained to her that all the details of the show were really based on Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The character James “Thunder” Early was really a combination of several soul stars like David Ruffin and James Brown, and Mary Wilson, (embodied in the Lorrell character), did have an affair with a fellow Motown singer but he was a member of the Four Tops.  I also revealed that the character Curtis Taylor, Jr. represented none other than Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Motown who pushed the Supremes towards pop success and became romantically involved with Diana Ross.   The same way Curtis (in the musical) uses payola to keep Effie’s solo effort from going up the charts, many rumored that Berry Gordy, Jr. conspired against Florence Ballard so that her solo project would be lost and shelved away.
Michael Bennett (director, producer, choreographer), Henry Krieger (composer), Tom Eyen (writer and lyricist), and the other Dreamgirls producers denied connections between the musical's plot and the history of the Supremes, in order to avoid legal issues with Motown Records and Diana Ross.  Reportedly, Diana was angered by the show and expressed her displeasure to the media. Ironically, however, she delivered a heartfelt version of a song from the musical, “Family,” in her unforgettable concert in Central Park in 1983.

Forever affected by the theater experience, I bought the soundtrack and a souvenir button once the show let out that night.  For days, I played every song from the soundtrack over and over again, trying to associate each one to various Motown songs I had collected over the years.  I was then a front desk agent at the Hyatt Hotel in Baltimore, and I convinced a few of my co-workers to get together and sing the song “Family” for our employee talent show. As the ringleader, I launched into an entire synopsis of the play before we began our song, which we recorded on video. As I look back on that footage now, I realize the performance was horrible.  However, my Dreamgirl passion refused to die.

In 1986, Mary Wilson released her book Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, and it confirmed all I had suspected in terms of the “coincidences” between the musical and my beloved group.  Before the musical opened, Mary had mentioned her book in a television interview and said that its title would be Reflections: My Life as a Supreme. Once she saw Dreamgirls, however, she changed the title of the book to incorporate the title of the musical.
Although my singing skills were still not the best, I yearned to be in a production of Dreamgirls. Around 1985, I auditioned for a national touring company of the show. I bought sheet music for the 1964 Marvin Gaye hit, “How Sweet It Is (To be Loved By You)” and prepared to sing that song.  I stood in line outside for several hours and, when I was called in, I discovered that several members of the touring cast had shown up to support me.  (At that time I was a singing trolley car driver in Baltimore, and a number of the touring cast members rode my route while the show was up in the city.)  Prepared as I was, when it came time for me to sing, I could not remember the words. The pianist played it a couple of times and I could not even get the melody to come out of my mouth. It was like a bad American Idol moment. I had to walk out of the theater and past all my other friends who were in line to audition and try to hold my head up.  I wanted to be invisible in that moment.  Nevertheless, it still did not stop me.  I knew that some day I would be close to the Supremes, have an iota of fame close to their fame, or both.
During the 80’s when I was romantically involved with a Baltimore politician, he took me to see the show again in New York City.  Sheryl Lee Ralph was out that day and Phylicia Rashad, (Debbie Allen’s sister and Bill Cosby’s television wife), was performing as a wonderful understudy. During the 90’s, I saw a touring production of Dreamgirls in Philadelphia with singer Mikki Howard playing the role of Deena.  Several Baltimore community theaters also did productions over the years and I tried to see them all.  Then, I finally got close to a real Supreme.
It was in 1995 that I met Diana Ross during the promotional tour of her album, Take Me Higher. She made a guest appearance on the BET show Video Soul, hosted by Donnie Simpson. The show dedicated the first hour to a retrospective of her music videos, and during the second half she sat down for an interview with Simpson. People in the audience were hoping she might sing, but my buddy who worked on the show and who had gotten me a seat in the studio audience warned me that she was not going to. She wasn’t even going to stay for the entire show because she had to head to New York for a record store signing the next day.

In the harsh studio lights, I was surprised that she looked so fabulous up close. What I was impressed with most was her face, as time seemed to have stopped for her. Her make-up was so simple that she reminded me of the fresh-faced girl on the Where Did Our Love Go album, wearing black eyeliner with a small turn up at the corner. Her sexy red dress got a lot of attention, because her breasts seemed to want to jump out. It also caused a number of technical difficulties, and the sound guy was continuously re-adjusting her microphone during the commercial breaks. Everyone loved the joke she made about her high stiletto “fuck me” pumps, and the studio audience was enthralled. 
During the interview, she tried very hard to be gracious and politically correct. It was during the commercial breaks that she appeared less than enthusiastic. In her interview with Donnie, she mentioned that she really liked a song on her album called “Don’t Stop.” It was smooth and jazzy and had a rap verse in it, but she hinted that Motown did not want to promote it and she appeared irritated by this.  Her disposition wasn’t helped by the fact that one obnoxious lady in the audience kept calling out loudly, “Hey Diana! Hey Diana! Are you gonna sing for us?”
Diana turned towards the woman’s general area and sang the word “sing.” Everyone laughed. Unfortunately, this did not deter the overzealous fan.  “Hey Diana!” she persisted.
Finally, Diana turned away from her conversation with Donnie off camera and looked the woman directly in the face, giving a real sharp stare. The woman became uncomfortable and corrected herself. “Miss Ross,” she said, “You were just wonderful in Mahogany.”
 Diana responded very politely.  “Thank you.”
The woman reminded me of a child who keeps tugging at a parent for attention, just to get it and then tell the parent something so simple and useless.  After the parent expresses annoyance, the child shrinks back to a better behavior. 

I tried to break the tension in that moment by asking if I could get Diana to sign my CD. I had rushed out the previous week to purchase the more expensive, overseas import of her new album, fearing that the regular CD wouldn’t be in stores in time for her studio appearance.  I had also purchased a gold felt tipped marker to gather the all-important autograph. I gave my buddy all the materials and he rushed them over to her on set. She asked my name and after he told her she said, “If Dale wants me to sign this CD, why doesn’t he give me a pen that works?” 
“Oh my God,” I said to myself. “She just called out my name!”
 I jumped up from the bleachers and explained that the pen just needed to be pumped.  She signed the CD and I sat down, rather embarrassed. I don’t know whether it was because I hadn’t explained the pen beforehand or because she hadn’t figured out how to use it. Either way, I had her signature.
I took a few pictures “of” her signing my CD during the break, since she had only agreed to take a picture “with” a couple that had won some contest. At that moment, an old piece of advice I’d often heard came to mind: “Never try to meet your idols -- they always disappoint you.”
Having already seen one Supreme up close and personal, imagine my joy when I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and one of the first celebrities I met was Dreamgirls star Loretta Devine. She and James Avery were doing a play at the Hudson Theater, and I was able to talk with her after one of her shows.  I later wrote her a fan letter, asking her to sign the photo that we had taken together at the Hudson.  She was the first celebrity to whom I had ever written a fan letter.  She wrote me back very graciously and returned the photo we had taken together, autographed.

Although I did extra work on two Sheryl Lee Ralph projects, the movie The Distinguished Gentleman and the sitcom Moesha, I never had a chance to meet her on set because we never appeared in the same scenes. Years later, however, I appeared as a yard sale browser on the Style Network show Clean House, in an episode featuring a yard sale at Sheryl’s home.  Although I had an opportunity to buy a huge poster of the Ebony Magazine cover of Dreamgirls, I ended up buying a beautiful oriental entertainment center instead.  At least I bought something from a Dreamgirl.

I have loved and admired every single lady who has officially been a Supreme.   When I wrote Mary Wilson and told her of my book project, she sent back the most beautiful postcard and an autographed picture that read, “To Dale -- why did it take so long?”
In 2003, there was a release and signing of the Supremes’ 70’s anthology at the ArcLight Theater in Hollywood. All of the “70’s Supremes” showed up except for Mary. I stood in line for hours with other fans, each of us holding and sharing our memorabilia. Even RuPaul attended.  Someone asked for his autograph, but he refused saying, “It’s about the ladies tonight!”
 Jean Terrell and I chatted about my hair, which at that time was in natural twists. I had heard that she owned a salon in the San Fernando Valley. She had released a solo album after she left the Supremes and I had it with me, so I asked her to sign it.  I also had a huge poster of the Supremes’ final album, Mary, Sherrie & Susaye, and Scherrie Payne and Susaye Greene signed that for me as well.   I had already taken photos of Linda Laurence and Scherrie Payne at the Supremes convention of 1997, so they added their signatures to that memory.  Later, Cindy Birdsong also graciously took a picture with me.

Everyone was disappointed that Mary was not there but no one was surprised. Mary and the other women were in the midst of legal hassles, since Mary was trying to prevent Linda and Sherrie from performing as the FLOS (Former Ladies of The Supremes.)
During my time in Los Angeles, I have had the opportunity to run into Diana Ross’ daughter, Tracee Ellis-Ross, at various Hollywood parties and premieres.  No matter where she is, she is gracious and kind and always finds a moment to take a picture. 

She is truly one of Hollywood’s gifted comediennes. I look forward to the time when she does some important work on the big screen. I had even been hoping that Tracee would be cast in the Paramount / DreamWorks film production of Dreamgirls.  Although she was not, I was thrilled with the casting choices.  Beyonce’ was perfectly cast as Deena, Anika Noni Rose made a lovely Lorrell, and Jennifer Hudson took the role of Effie and made it her own. Hudson actually seemed to channel Florence Ballard rather than Jennifer Holiday.  When she won the Golden Globe Award for the role in 2007, she thanked Florence Ballard. I understood that moment.

When they finally announced the movie production of Dreamgirls, I knew not to even think about auditioning for a role because that would mean I would have to sing.  In addition, I knew that anyone and everyone who had ever performed in a touring production of the show would be there and ready to cut throats.  Instead, I signed on to do extra work in the film and promised myself that it would be my farewell performance to that kind of gig.  Background work had paid a lot of my bills and had even gotten me a few breaks and upgrades, but for the most part I hated, (and still hate), the treatment of background actors on a set.  Furthermore, what I really hated was being in the background when I wanted to be in the foreground. However, I was willing to bite the bullet one more time to be close to the experience of Dreamgirls.
They called me to work the final scene of the movie where the Dreams have their farewell concert and ask Effie to the stage. The scene took two nights to film and I was so impressed with the attention to detail.  I was one of hundreds of people at the concert dressed in the formal wear of the 70’s.  Our haircuts, sideburns, and even eye glasses were checked and doubled checked, and a “wardrobe Nazi” went through each of us with a flashlight to make sure we looked authentic.
The assistant director explained to us that the scene was very much like the 1969 farewell performance of the Supremes in Vegas. Several actors working the scene that night didn’t understand the reference, as they were either too young or too unfamiliar with the Supremes to get it.  I owned the Farewell album.  I knew the history. What really happened that night was Diana Ross passed the crown of lead singer on to Jean Terrell.  Florence Ballard was not in the audience. The Dreams’ fairytale ending was very different from the real life story.

Jamie Foxx, who plays Curtis in the film, ran around the theater keeping all the extras entertained during the long waiting periods between takes. He did comedy stand up, made fun of our clothes, had us do a sing-a-long of old 70’s sitcom theme songs and basically helped everyone forget they had been sitting there for such a long time.  The only other stars in attendance that night were Beyonce’, Jennifer Hudson, and Danny Glover. No photographs were allowed to be taken on set and the production had special security guards who made sure that everyone was screened. Not even our cell phones were permitted on set. 

As I sat there in the audience being an extra, doing my “paid” applause, I flashed back to my seat in a Broadway theater twenty-five years earlier, enjoying the finale of Dreamgirls.  I then thought of the many friends I had grown up with who had also shared that experience but had not lived to see things come full circle.

When I think of the Supremes, I think of dreams. I went on to experience a lot of my dreams, although long-term fame has seemed to elude me. It has been a struggle but I have had some wonderful accomplishments to look back on and have had a life full of rich learning experiences. To paraphrase lyrics from the Dreamgirls tune, “When I First Saw You”…

I needed a dream to make me strong…
Who could believe they could ever come true?
And who could believe
That the world would believe
 In my dreams too…
There comes a time when a child’s got to grow
Mama said I am special
She said I’ve got to prove
I am just as good
 I’m even better than…

(From the song “When I First Saw You,” from the Dreamgirls Original Broadway Cast Album, 1982, composed by Tom Eyen/Henry Krieger) 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Happening


n an album of greatest hits, usually the artist has someone else come in and write the liner notes. I contacted Mary Wilson to ask if she would write the liner notes for this project, she eventually responded and sent me a short note:

“Thank you for all of the acknowledgments. I never knew that we, Florence Diane and I had that much effect on people. We were just doing what we enjoyed doing and hoped that people liked it. I really do appreciate your admiration of us. Dreamboy is truly a Dream Come True. You have written a memoir that not only every gay man should read but every person should read.”

Maybe it seems odd that I would have liner notes written for a book, but as you will soon discover, this isn’t a conventional book.  It is a book written like an album. 
The next question that may come to mind is, “Who is Dale Guy Madison?” Why would you want to read a book about him? Is he famous? Have we seen him on Entertainment Tonight? Have we seen photographs of him stepping onto the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere? Has TMZ or The National Enquirer ever caught him leaving a rehab clinic? Is he even sleeping with somebody famous?
Not anymore.  But keep reading.

            DREAMBOY: My Life as a QVC Host and Other Greatest Hits is my memoir. It is a reflection upon my life told against a canvas of music by the phenomenal group The Supremes, and from the Supremes-inspired Broadway musical, Dreamgirls.  Each chapter is a song title, each song a dream from some chapter of my life, and each dream one of my greatest hits.
I truly believed I was not destined to do just one thing in life, and so I went after many of my dreams.  I started off working as one of the first male telephone operators in Baltimore city.  Next, I dabbled in the world of nude and commercial modeling, was a stripper, a singing trolley driver, a costume designer, and a children’s storyteller. I appeared in some Hollywood movies, mostly as a background extra. Then I became a national shopping channel host, which led me to becoming a doll maker and a businessman.  A few years after that, I jumped into the high heel shoes of a drag queen and produced a one-man show about transvestites. 

On many levels, I achieved success throughout my eclectic career, albeit without the fame. Through it all, the music of the Supremes has been my guiding force.  I have followed the Supremes’ struggles, their crossover successes, and their personnel changes as if I was a close family member.  I know the Supremes and the story behind the musical Dreamgirls like I know the story of my own life.

In 2000, Motown released a five disc ultimate Supremes anthology.  Each disc covered various eras of the Supremes’ musical contributions, and included all the lineups of the seven women who at some point performed as part of the Supremes. My memoirs, divided into five discs, lyrically explain the various areas of my life: the familial, the personal, and the professional.  At the end of most of the chapters in each “disc”, I share a personal message of insight derived from the experience of that chapter.

In this first disc, named for one of the Supremes’ 1967 hits, I describe how a little black boy from Tidewater, Virginia, fell in love with three girls he saw on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 60’s. (And I school some of the “young bloods” reading this book on the evolution of the amazing Supremes!)  I also share how I personally related to the story of the Supremes’ lives after seeing the 80’s Broadway show, Dreamgirls.

The title of the second disc, “Family,” is borrowed from a song from the musical Dreamgirls.  In this, I share my early years growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, while paying tribute in song to each of my family members.

The Supremes followed up their smash number one hit “Love Child” with a similar urban beat called “I’m Livin’ in Shame.” That song plays over and over in my head when I think of my mother, Lovelean. Her chapter is really my written apology to her, because for years I felt ashamed of her lack of education and sophistication. “Miss Love,” as her friends called her, was a country farm girl who only finished the seventh grade.  But she proved that a divorced mother with a limited education could raise three honor students and even teach them a thing or two about life along the way.

As for my father, Bill, we were distant.  So distant, in fact, that I save him for a chapter in a later disc entitled “Up the Ladder to the Roof.”  Although he and I were not close, he was an important part of my life and shaped how I got to where I am today.  I could not have chosen a better Supremes song to chronicle our hot and cold relationship than “Bill, When Are You Coming Back,” the tune on the flip side (or “B-side”) of the “Up the Ladder to the Roof” single.   He was in the Navy and spent more time away from his family than with us as children. He divorced my mother around the time Diana Ross left the Supremes, and when we finally established a relationship during the 70’s, I discovered an emotionally distant man who had thirteen illegitimate children and showed very little love to any of them. He died during the course of my writing this book.

Not only did I have my immediate family to help me through the early years of my life, I also had a group of close friends that shared in and contributed to some of my most formative experiences.  I mention them in the last chapters of this disc, which describe the end of my teenage years, my coming out years.  It may sound cliché to use the most obvious gay anthem from the Ross catalogue, but if it works, why not?  What gay man does not have an “I’m Coming Out” story?  My story led me to a “Love Hangover.” The road to coming out in the 70’s wasn’t always filled with discos and bright lights. My road held a dark corner that had me “steppin’ to the bad side,” (to quote a phrase from Dreamgirls.)


This third disc encompasses my favorite part of my memoirs, my dish on all the enrapturing, heartbreaking, and delicious relationships I’ve had throughout my life.  I dedicate it to Mary Wilson, “the sexy one,” because she was such a flirt. In her own book, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, she admits with candor and playful naughtiness to a number of the intimate relationships she has had in her life. I had so much fun matching just the right Supreme song to each man I dated and to the one woman I married, who was and is just as much a Supremes fan as myself.  “I Meant You No Harm,” a love song from Dreamgirls, describes the feeling I get when I look back on the regret of past loves. I paired this title with a Supremes tune penned by Smokey Robinson, “Breathtaking Guy.” Together, these two songs perfectly describe the stream of relationships that shaped my life during my adult years. I went from an abusive gay relationship into an affair with a Maryland State politician, then into a marriage with a heterosexual woman and back into a long-term relationship with a man. When I look over all the relationships of my adult years, I can’t help but hear, “Are you just a breathtaking / first sight soul-shaking / one night love-making / next day- heartbreaking guy?”


The title of the fourth disc is from the Supremes’ 1970 hit single that debuted Jean Terrell as the new lead singer after Diana Ross left the group. As I climbed the ladder to success and fame, I made a few stops along the way.  I think I tried it all.  The first chapter of this disc, “Dirty Looks,” is named for a seldom-heard cut from the 1987 Diana Ross album, “Red Hot Rhythm & Blues.”  Throughout the 80’s, I posed naked in classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art.  In remembering this experience, I think of all the times people looked at me with “dirty thoughts” in mind. Like the Tracy Chambers character that Diana Ross portrayed in the movie Mahogany, I too wanted to become a fashion designer and model. But instead of flying off to Rome and having Billy Dee Williams to come back to, I undressed and posed nude by day, danced as a stripper at night, produced fashion shows and taught myself how to design clothes.  Then I moved into acting full time and began my two theater companies, Umoja Sa! Sa! and Actors Against Drugs (AAD).

In the early days of Motown, all the acts went out on a Motown Motor City Tour. I look back on my two traveling theater companies and compare them to the magic of that famous tour. While educating and entertaining audiences with powerful messages about substance abuse, AIDS awareness, and cultural diversity, my companies experienced behind the scenes drama rivaling that of our live presentations. Drug addictions, alcohol addictions, and power struggles destroyed friendships, exposed secrets, and caused financial disaster. When I left my troupes to become host on one of the most popular networks of the early 90’s, QVC, I felt like Diana Ross did at the Supremes’ farewell performance in 1970 at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas.  It was as if I was stepping out on my own.

Most fans know that after Diana Ross left the Supremes, she achieved her greatest fame. There was the nomination for an Academy award, a stream of number one hits, numerous concerts, movies, television specials, and the infamous concert in Central Park.  At QVC, I had my first number one hit with the show Destination: Africa, being the creator and producer of the program.  That shopping show, dedicated to products originating from Africa, was an unheard of concept in the world of television shopping.  And I was the one to introduce it.

Diana Ross followed her number one hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with another Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson tune, “Remember Me.” This appropriately named chapter talks of my struggle to maintain fame after leaving the television-shopping world. After leaving West Chester, Pennsylvania, I moved back to Baltimore and opened the first afro-centric gay store in the city. When that wasn’t enough, I moved to Los Angles and tried to produce a movie starring Joey Buttafucco.

This disc is where I finally write my liner notes. It’s that moment of the awards show where I thank God, my mother, and all the people who made me feel like a star, even when I was not.  In one of their poorest charting albums, Diana Ross and the Supremes covered songs from the musical Funny Girl.  While writing my liner notes, I couldn’t help but relate to the tune from the show that goes, “I’m the greatest star, I am by far…but no one knows it!”

I close my liner notes with an open letter to Mary Wilson.  It is a tribute to all the background singers and background actors without whom no song or film could be made, but who often go unrecognized and unappreciated and have a tough time stepping out into the lead.

The music of Diana Ross and the Supremes has been the songbook to the chapters of my life. And my story is one of unending re-invention. Like an anthology of greatest hits, there is a little something for everyone in the pages that follow. If you love the Supremes, if you love Dreamgirls, you will enjoy reading this book. If you have never heard of either, perhaps this will spark an interest in you to listen to their music and see why I am such a fan. I hope that I can convince you to be one too.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Baby love
My baby love

Why must we separate, my love?

All of my whole life through

I never loved no one but you

Why you do me like you do?

I get this need….

(From the song “Baby Love,” from the Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go album, 1964, composed by Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Edward Holland Jr.)

 am a product of the “golden age” of television.  I was conceived on a balmy night in July of 1957, between episodes of Roy Rogers and Wagon Train.  Nine months later, Dale Guy Madison was born. Named for Dale Evans, Roy Rogers’ wife, and Guy Madison, one of the guest stars of Wagon Train, my purpose in life seemed destined -- I was to become a performer.

            I was cooing only my first words when the group  “The Supremes” was born (they were originally founded as “The Primettes” in 1959 and became “The Supremes” in 1961).  By the time they had their first hits in 1964, their music, energy, and essence encompassed my world.  Every car transistor in my neighborhood could be heard playing “The Sound of Young America,” (the official slogan that then referred to the music of Motown,) and often it would be a Supremes single that would float through the speakers and dance on the air.  Whenever my family tuned into The Ed Sullivan Show, I would see those beautiful ladies again as they captivated the audience with their style and grace. What drew me to these three young singers from the Detroit projects, discovered by Berry Gordy?  Of course in the sixties, it was exciting just to see black people on television.  I shared the same sentiment as Oprah Winfrey when as a child she would holler from her back porch, “Colored people on!  Colored people on tv!”  But the Supremes had a special appeal to me, beyond any of the other “colored” performers of that era.  They were something unique.

Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Diana Ross. Mary always seemed to be having the most fun.  Diana was cute but was always popping her large eyes to make them appear even bigger.  Florence always seemed a bit haughty or pissed.  She was stern, pretty, and aloof like my mother, who even had a wig very similar to one of the many wigs that Florence wore. I loved to watch those three singers standing in front of the microphone, all eyes on them.

To a black kid growing up in the sixties, the Supremes were an undeniable symbol of success.  They were an example of what could happen if you had talent and drive. You could rise from the projects and one day be on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were given very little in the beginning and look how they turned it around -- they were performing all over the world. In the late 50’s and early 60’s when the civil rights movement was huge, success was about crossover.  That’s just what the Supremes did. They weren’t just stars for the black community, they leapt over color barriers. White kids helped the Supremes bust the charts open with more number one hits than any other artist or musical group, except for the Beatles and Elvis Presley.  Everyone knew their names and I wanted people to know my name: Dale Guy Madison. My name reminded me of the Hollywood star, Edward G. Robinson. Just as the Supremes had done, I wanted to cross over too.

No, I wasn’t a singer and I did not live in the projects. I lived in a middle class neighborhood in Portsmouth, Virginia. The community was named Cavalier Manor, and every street was named after a famous black person. I lived on [Duke] Ellington Square; behind our home was [Billy] Ekstine Drive, and across the way was [Count] Basie Crescent.  However, I knew from the time I was a small child that I had been given my name for a special reason. Why else would my parents have named me after those white people?  Ironically enough, it sometimes felt like the only obstacles standing in my way were my parents.
            One day, as I sat in the living room watching a tv documentary on the life of Marilyn Monroe, (narrated by famous movie heart throb Rock Hudson), my father felt it necessary to comment as he walked past the television set, Issac Asimov science fiction novel in hand. “You know that is not her [Marilyn Monroe’s] real voice singing,” he said.
            I continued staring at the television set and tried my best to ignore him -- he certainly had a way of throwing ice water on a dream.  But he kept on.
“That long note she is singing at the end of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend is another singer’s voice mixed in on top of hers,” he added. “I don’t understand what you see in those old movies anyway.”
             “Marilyn Monroe is famous,” I quipped back.  “People know her name.”
            “You really live in the past too much, watching those old movies.  Why don’t you go read a book? Marilyn Monroe isn’t even her real name.”
            Well, I did go read a book.  I went to the library, checked out a biography on Marilyn Monroe and studied about the life of Norma Jean Baker, the woman who would groom herself into the famous icon. I read several versions by several different authors from cover to cover.  What mattered to me in everything I read was that Marilyn Monroe was a star. 
I also learned that Marilyn Monroe died when she was thirty-six years old. That age seemed old to me as a child. I told my brother, Ricky, that I’d rather die than be old at thirty.  Headed to Saturday market, one crisp morning in our 1959 red Chevrolet Impala, he tattled on me.
“Hey, Ma -- Dale says he is going to kill himself before he turns thirty!”
            “Dale, why would you say a fool thing like that?” my mother asked in shock.
            “I don’t ever want to be old,” I replied.
Ricky and my sister, Elsie, burst out laughing at my ridiculous statement. I didn’t understand what was so ridiculous.  In the early to mid sixties, many famous people had died young just like Marilyn Monroe, including John F. Kennedy and Dorothy Dandridge.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would die in the late sixties, at only the tender age of 39.
That morning I ignored their teasing and turned up the volume on the car radio to drown them out.  As usual, the Supremes were playing on the radio, singing one of their top ten hits, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”  With all the enthusiasm my free-spirited, eight-year-old self could gather, I laid down my vocals right along with them:
Set me free, why don’t cha babe
Get out my life, why don’t cha babe
‘Cause you don’t really love me

You just keep me hangin’ on

I was a diva in the making, but this time it was my mother who shut me down.

“Boy, what did I tell you ‘bout singing like a girl?  Don’t no boy supposed to be runnin’ ‘round sounding like no girl. Now turn that shit down!”
I turned down the radio but never turned down my love for the three girls from Detroit. That same year I bought my very first record album, a 45 rpm of the single “Come See About Me,” which I purchased from the Navy commissary where things were discounted below retail. (Only a military ID could get you in and my father was a military man.)  I began to collect more record albums, posters, magazine articles, and anything I could find related to the Supremes.  I craved for tidbits about their lives; I wanted to know who their boyfriends were, if they fought over gowns, where they lived, and how they really got along.  I wondered why Diana Ross had to sing lead on every song instead of sharing the spotlight.  The Temptations seemed to have two or three different guys take turns on the lead -- why not the Supremes? Why were the Supremes such a success while some other girl groups were not?  During that era, all the girl groups pretty much looked alike.  Most had three singers and, if they were black, they always wore big wigs.  I did notice that the Supremes always wore nicer wigs than the Marvellettes or the Vandellas.  But what made their sound unique? 
I wanted to feel the magic and know all the dirt. I believed that if it could happen to them, it could happen to me.  It was not that I wanted to be a singer; I just wanted the fame that comes when people know who you are.
At eight years old, I had already started to follow my passion and had held the lead in every school play since grade one, (and would do so through grade five.)  From the time I appeared in my first school play, Jimmie and the Sleep Fairies, I was hooked on performing.  The play was about a little boy, Jimmie, who refuses to go to bed until he is visited by fairies that tell him, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a young boy healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  Jimmie starts going to bed early, (and so did I in real life.)

During the fourth and fifth grades, I would make the morning announcements over the school’s PA system.  Being the morning announcer always made me feel special, and the teachers always told me I had a great speaking voice.  In classes, the teachers always called upon me to read aloud.  Then something happened in the sixth grade --  my voice changed. And it happened right after I was cast as Ebenezer Scrooge in the musical A Christmas Carol.

            Like many boys going through puberty, sex hormones began to set in and my voice started cracking. So there I was in this production, giving my best British accent for the meanest Scrooge this side of the London breweries, however, when it came time for me to sing, my voice would akwardly break.  The director of the production, Mr. Brown, finally replaced me two weeks before the show opened.  (By this time, the Supremes had also replaced Florence Ballard with a new background singer, Cindy Birdsong.)  I wondered, “Is this how Florence felt after being pushed out of the group?”

            It was my first taste of the bitter side of the world of entertainment.  I should have packed up and quit the business then, but I did not. Instead, I just went home and cried. 
About a week later, Mr. Brown called saying that, although he had replaced me with a brilliant singer named Anthony Avery, Anthony just couldn’t get his lines right.  So, Mr. Brown had come up with a perfect solution.
            “Dale,” he said. “Did you see the movie My Fair Lady that came on television the other night?”
            “Yes, Mr. Brown.  But what does that have to do with me?”
            “It was a musical, Dale, and the star, Rex Harrison, could not sing.  Did you notice how he talked his way through the songs?  I think if you are willing to practice talking through your songs like Rex Harrison, we could put you back in the play.”

It was like a dream come true. My mother was against it, fed up with the going back and forth, but I persisted.  I resumed the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, and the sense of accomplishment of doing that play never left me.  Afterwards, I felt I could do anything.
The next year when my school cast the non-musical play No Man Is An Island, based on the poem by John Donne, I knew that I had the lead, since I was on a streak.   But Mr. Brown cast my best friend, Bruce Melvin, instead.  I guess he figured I had given him enough stress the year before and he didn’t want to take any chances.
I had experienced my first disappointments at the hands of “showbiz,” and would eventually learn that they can not always be avoided. It was around this time in 1969 that I learned that the Supremes were breaking up.  I still remember the confusion I felt.  What did Diana Ross hope to achieve by going solo? Would it change her sound?  I remember watching the Supremes as they performed their song “Someday We’ll Be Together” on The Ed Sullivan Show, wondering why they had to break up and if they were getting a divorce like my mother and father. (My parents were separated by that time, and in the final stages of divorce proceedings.)

I also wondered why Florence had left the group a few years earlier.  There were rumors, but information was spotty.  I remember reading somewhere that Florence was going to release her own album.  I was happy for her because, like most fans, I always wondered what she would sound like if she came out of the background and sang solo. I remember a sense of relief when, after Diana Ross’ departure, the Supremes rebounded with new lead singer Jean Terrell and scored a hit with “Up the Ladder to the Roof.”  I loved the new sound as much as I enjoyed Diana Ross’ debut solo hit,  “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).  Prior to the breakup, I heard Mary sing the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on the television show The Hollywood Palace.  I liked her singing but was hoping she would pick a better song to showcase herself. I wasn’t crazy about the original version, much less Mary’s version.  My brother, a die hard Fifth Dimension fan, teased me unmercifully about this. 

 “Now we know why Mary sings background and won’t be singing lead when Diana Ross leaves,” he jabbed.
“You’re just jealous,” I said.  “Your ol’ Fifth Dimension doesn’t have half the hits that the Supremes have!”
My family and I were extremely competitive with our favorite musical groups.  In Ricky’s mind, Marilyn McCoo of the Fifth Dimension couldn’t sing a bad note if she tried.  He was always looking for ways to pick on my beloved Supremes.  My baby sister idolized the Jackson Five. My mom kept a picture of James Brown on her dresser, but one day my father came to visit and tore it up. I felt I was always the most dedicated to my group, as I kept up with every member.
When Florence died in 1976, she made the cover of Jet Magazine.  The publication reported that she had been broke and on welfare.  I knew then that there was an untold Supremes story.  It wouldn’t be until years later, when I saw the musical Dreamgirls and read Mary Wilson’s autobiography, that I would be exposed to the drama behind the music.  Drama or no drama, showbiz and the Supremes were already in my blood.  They weren’t going anywhere.

Baby love, my baby love,

I need you, oh how I need you

Why you do me like you do

After I’ve been true to you

So deep in love with you…

Baby, baby, ooh ‘til it’s hurtin’ me
‘til it’s hurtin’ me
Ooh, baby love…