Some Tuesday Love: “Up The Ladder To The Roof,” The Supremes, 1970
This song has kicking in my brain since last week. I guess these girls wanted in on my page, even as I was thinking on Whitney. However, instead of Diana Ross and the Supremes, this is the Supremes after Ross officially left for her solo career. Jean Terrell took over as lead singer, but Mary Wilson, the sole surviving member of the group, would thereafter be known as its unofficial leader, with Cindy Birdsong as the singer who took over after Florence Ballard was fired.
Frank Wilson wrote the music for the song, with lyrics written by an Italian-American songwriter from New York City named Vincent DiMirco. The lyrics to the song feature Terrell inviting her lover to be hers forever, through all of the good and bad in life, and eventually into the afterlife, where they will climb “up the ladder to the roof” to be “closer to heaven”. Emphasizing the new sound Frank Wilson had crafted for the “New Supremes”, “Up the Ladder to the Roof” features a rhythmic instrumental arrangement, with Jean Terrell, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong all providing prominent, ethereal backgrounds for Jean Terrell’s leads.
One more interesting point. Jean Terrell’s voice training came from gospel, that is, from the black church. It is said that Frank Wilson, a Motown songwriter and producer associated with Norman Whitfield, told Terrell to tone down the number of vocal runs that she was making. Wilson feared that with Terrell making herself sound too soulful, Motown president Berry Gordy would think that the song would be too inaccessible to white customers and fans. Unfortunately, this was a earlier charge that was also leveled at the late Flo Ballard.
The Funk Brothers are still backing up Motown singers; they would continue to do so until 1972.
Frank Wilson left Motown as a born-again Christian in 1976. He later became a minister, and along with his wife is conducting seminars in Christian marriage and relationships, mostly directed at men. He also produces gospel music. Wilson, 71, lives in Houston, TX.
“Up the Ladder to the Roof” was also featured in a 20 10 Off-Broadway musical, Everyday Rapture, starring Sherie Rene Scott. Described as “a one-person show with four people in it,” it is one young woman’s journey from her strait-laced Mennonite upbringing in Kansas to the musical stage in New York.
- Happy Birthday to the Supreme Cindy Birdsong! Let’s celebrate with videos and revisiting my 2009 interview with the Motown star (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Is Diana Ross’ lifetime achievement award enough? (thegrio.com)
- “We’ll laugh and I’ll tell you the story of love, how it is and the happiness in it baby” (justwilliam1959.wordpress.com)