Gary James' Interview With Former Supreme
Susaye Greene is the last member of The Supremes signed to Motown Records. When we spoke with Susaye she had just released the CD "No Fear Here" on her own record label, Zed Records. Susaye is not only a singer / songwriter / producer, but also a manager with her own company, Coton Directions. And she was writing a children's book and developing an animating and live-action feature film. No doubt about it, Susaye Greene is one busy lady! But that didn't stop her from taking a few minutes out of her busy schedule to speak with us.
Q - Susaye, you did baby food commercials. You worked with Harry Belafonte. You travelled with Ray Charles. How'd you get to do all that? Were your parents in show biz?
A - Yes they were actually.
Q - That explains it.
A - Yes, it does. Actually my mother was a tremendous concert pianist and a Blues singer eventually. Her name was Vivian Greene. She had a hit record of her own in I think 1948 called "Honey, Honey, Honey". My Dad sang with Big Bands like Lionel Hampton. Show business was just a family affair. So my mom, once she realized that I had talent that was in the same field, encouraged me and supported me throughout.
Q - Did you realize how popular The Supremes were in the mid-1960s?
A - I think so. I saw The Supremes come along just like everyone else and experienced the whole thing. I can remember specifically being with my two best friends and hearing The Supremes for the first time, the first songs. Growing up in New York, you're pretty savvy. You hear everything. You're exposed to everything. We kind of thought it was pushed down your throat at first, but I think "Where Did Our Love Go" was the first one that really caught on with our crowd. By that time everyone had selected a favorite. (laughs) It was just part of my culture, all the Motown people. The Temptations were my particular favorites. But we loved Smokey and Martha And The Vandellas. The Supremes were sort of 'live' dolls that you could look up to and imagine yourself being one of them. They were all individuals and yet they had that very classy and glamorous image and there was a sweetness and innocence about them at the same time.
Q - Do you remember seeing The Supremes on The Ed Sullivan Show?
A - I sure do. I can remember the whole Beatles phenomenon. Music, when you're very young, is such a part of your life, such a strong influence, so much of what you think of all the time. You don't forget those things.
Q - When you were with The Supremes, was
Mary Wilson in the group?
A - Yes.
Q - That must've been an incredible experience.
A - (laughs) Of course it was. It was a thrill, you know. I can remember when I first met Mary. I was with Ray Charles in Washington, D.C. Mary, Jean Terrell and Cyndi Birdsong were in the group at that time. I was fascinated. I stood backstage. I was with The Raylettes back then. I stood backstage and watched them. You were enamored. The way they carried themselves. Their clothing. To actually one day get to sing with them and be in the same dressing room and on the same stage... I wore Diana's dresses, a lot of them, because I was so tiny. But what a thrill! What a dream come true! Something you never imagined happened.
Q - You were the host of a cable TV network show called Hollywood Hot. What was the format of that show like? Did you interview celebrities?
A - I sure did. At the time we first started, my first interviews were Brenda Rus, Stevie Wonder and Neil Portnow. The concept was to show videos and do on-location and in-house interviews, that sort of thing. I was able to do it first of all because record executives like Neil Portnow didn't get a lot of invitations for interviews and they have huge egos and want to be known. (laughs) If I remember, at that time the thing that just amazed me was how willing people were to give you videos. There weren't that many video shows. MTV of course was on. I had such a diverse group that people gave me Heaven 17,
Dionne Warwick. Just all kinds of people. It was phenomenal because nobody else I guess was asking for all of these videos on a regular basis. So, there wasn't that much of an outlet and they just kept pouring in.
Q - Now you have your own management company.
A - Yes.
Q - You're writing a children's book, developing a couple of films. Where do you get the time to do all this?
A - I don't. (laughs) There isn't enough time, but the thinking is you do what you can in life. I'm the type of person who always has had to have tremendous challenges. I think that's because I was in show business from such a young age and had a very exciting life from a very young age, which means you need a bit more input than most people. It keeps me busy. I'm never bored. And it keeps me off the streets. (laughs) I don't get in trouble by being so busy. I'm also a mom and a wife, so it makes for a very full life. But it's very gratifying.
Q - You've got it all
A - You're absolutely right. I do have it all. There's a misconception that you can't have it all, but I think I'm living proof that you can.
Q - You're also a personal manager. Just being a personal manager to one act would be a full-time job. Do you have quite a few people working for you?
A - Not particularly, but I work from a very unusual viewpoint. All of the talent I work with are young people that I have developed. When I say developed, some of them are actors, some are singers and dancers. I have a couple of rappers. They're really, really brilliant young talent. I've looked very carefully to find them and they are all young people that I believe are the extreme kind of talent that's going to make an impression and a distinct change in the industry. They're mostly girls and that's because girls have, and I'm really sensitive to this, have a kind of a hard road in show business. You know, getting taken seriously and being presented in a classy way, yet credible. They're all very beautiful, young people who are under pressure at all times because of their beauty and because they're young girls. A lot of people out there take advantage and I have been in that situation, but understand it very well. It is a heavy load. At the moment I know I'm going to have to get other people. I have people who work in different areas with all of my young people. And that takes a lot of the slack off. I don't have to do everything. They're all very young. The youngest is 16. That's hard. That's rough. The only way I got involved with a 16 year old was I had to know her mother and I had a good understanding that her mother was extremely supportive and there all the time. I encourage them all to write, to be entrepreneurs, strong business people, to be publishers.
Q - How does a 16 year old get your attention?
A - She has to be pretty darn good.
Q - Does songwriting come easy to you?
A - Yeah, very much.
Q - What instrument do you play?
A - I play keyboards and I play the guitar a little bit. I mean very little. I have a few chords. But it's not even about that. Both of those instruments are instruments you can find your way on. Whether you're extremely adept at them is a different story. After you've played piano for a very long time, you can find unique chords. You can hear harmonies very simply and pick them out. It does come very easily. I'm blessed in that. I had tremendous teacher. You couldn't get any better than Stevie Wonder as a teacher of songwriting. He challenges you. He made you write quickly. I don't suppose I could have done it if I didn't have the talent for it. But he makes you come on with it and teaches you there are no rules. You make your own rules as you go along. I personally believe that songs are like jigsaw puzzles. It's out there in the universe, which is why when a piece fits, it fits! If it doesn't fit, you keep looking for the piece that does. You re-write and eventually it clicks. The key is knowing when it clicks and trusting that instinct. But I'm a deeply instinctive person. I believe in that. That's what keeps us safe. That's what keeps our feet on the ground and still have your head in the sky. I think if more people followed their true instincts, we'd be much happier and more involved.
Q - Since you once majored in drama, are you an actress who sings or a singer that acts?
A - Lets see, what am I? I don't know. Life is dramatic and drama is just a part of who you are. I never followed the acting road, even though I know I was very good at it. Becoming great and being dedicated to it are a separate set of circumstances. I never had the sort of drive to dig in, in that area. A lot of it had to do with control. I probably didn't like to be told what to do as much as I like telling people what to do. My aspirations are to direct. I'm going to co-ordinate my video and I'm going to direct other things. That's my next goal and challenge.
Q - You say "I want to impress upon people that there are all kinds of music to enjoy." It would almost seem like die-hard Country fans are not going to get into Rap and vice-versa.
A - If people are not limited and exposed to many things they've never heard before, there's always gonna be the good and bad of everything, of every genre of music. There's some great Rap and yet most of it is lousy. There's some lousy Opera. There's Jazz that I cannot hear and yet there's some that's warm and wonderful that inspires me and intrigues me. Every human being has the capacity to take in everything and many things. It's a matter of exposure I believe.