Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dec. 15: Cindy Birdsong of The Supremes and Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles is 75-years-old today.

Cynthia Ann "Cindy" Birdsong was originally a member of Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, then became a member of The Supremes, when she replaced founding member Florence Ballard. She was member of the group from 1967 until 1972, then again from 1973 until 1976, when she left the group for good.

Cindy Birdsong was born at Mount Holly, New Jersey.  After a short career as a nurse, Cindy  moved to Philadelphia, where she met singer Patti LaBelle and replaced Sandra Tucker as a member of The Ordettes. Within a couple of years, their group name changed to Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, and they found success with the singles "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," "Down the Aisle" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

Birdsong's affiliation with Patti Labelle & The Bluebells ended when Berry Gordy of Motown offered her a deal to replace Florence Ballard as a member of The Supremes in 1967. After spending some time as Ballard's stand-in, Birdsong officially joined The Supremes, as Gordy had renamed the group immediately prior to her joining in July 1967, as Diana Ross & the Supremes.

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For her first two and a half years as a Supreme, listeners did not hear Birdsong's voice on most of The Supremes' newest singles. Except for featured backgrounds on several collaborations with The Temptations, live album tracks, and some studio LP tracks, Birdsong and fellow member Mary Wilson did not sing backing vocals on the group's later singles.

The Andantes were substituted for Mary and Cindy on many, although not on all, cuts in subsequent Diana Ross & The Supremes albums. Both the Let the Sunshine In album and the Cream of the Crop album include tracks on which Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong sing back-up, often in tandem with the Andantes. However, Cindy can be heard doing a brief solo during "Let the Sunshine In" on their Farewell performance.

In 1970, Jean Terrell replaced Diana Ross as lead singer of The Supremes. In the new group, both Cindy and Mary played more prominent vocal roles, including the three albums the group recorded with the Four Tops. The same year, Birdsong married Charles Hewlett. Birdsong continued to perform with the Supremes when she became pregnant with her son, David, Birdsong officially leaving the Supremes in April 1972, after completing the Floy Joy album's recording sessions.

Her replacement, Lynda Laurence,  had already joined Mary Wilson and Jean Terrell onstage and on the Floy Joy album cover, as Birdsong's pregnancy became visible. After a brief hiatus, Birdsong returned to the Supremes in late 1973, replacing  Lynda Laurence (who had replaced Cindi,) and who was now pregnant. Birdsong remained with the Supremes until she retired in February 1976.
Cindy & The Supremes with Jean Terrell

During that period, Birdsong contributed to two albums: The Supremes (1975) and High Energy. During this time-frame, Cindy recorded lead vocals on "Till The Boat Sails Away," "You Keep Me Movin' On," and an unreleased version of "High Energy." Although Birdsong was featured on several tracks of the latter album, similar to the Floy Joy album, her replacement Susaye Greene appears on the album cover and was over-dubbed on several tracks.

After leaving the Supremes, Birdsong worked as a nurse at UCLA Medical Center under her married name of Cindy Hewlett, and then went to work for Suzanne de Passe at Motown Records. In 1987, Birdsong returned to singing, and released the single "Dancing Room" on Hi-Hat Records. Other songs were demoed, but none released. These songs included "Ready For You," "Check It Out," "Talk is Cheap," and "Anatomy."

In 1983, Birdsong joined fellow former Supremes Mary Wilson and Diana Ross in a one-off reunion on the Motown 25 anniversary television special.

In 1999, she reunited with the Bluebelles, who changed their name to Labelle after Birdsong's departure. For the first time in thirty-two years as the group accepted an R&B Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" together.

In 2004, Birdsong joined former Supreme Mary Wilson and Kelly Rowland (of Destiny's Child) to perform a medley of Supreme hits for the Motown 45 anniversary television special.
Cindy is now a minister in the Los Angeles area.


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