Susaye Greene: Singer, Songwriter &
Member of the Group, The Supremes
Unquestionably, the universally acclaimed, all-time favorite girl group, The Supremes are a cultural icon for glamour, poise, style, charm, elegance and wardrobe. The Supremes set a new standard for soulful sophistication by crossing over from R&B to Pop. While topping the charts with 12 #1 smash singles, they sustained the legacy with a total of 33 Top-40 hits, sales of 20 million singles, and an induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. In all, the act consisted of eight bona-fide Supremes between 1961 and 1977.
Susaye Greene began her professional career at age 12. As a teenager Susaye attended The New York City High School of Performing Arts, and appeared in various commercials. Prior to joining The Supremes, Greene sang with Ray Charles’ Raelettes and Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove. In 1973 she sang lead as a guest vocalist on The New Birth’s hit “Until It’s Time for You to Go.” A successful singer and songwriter as well, Greene has written hit records for Michael Jackson, Deniece Williams, and many others.
Susaye Greene joined The Supremes in 1976, (replacing Cindy Birdsong), and performed on their last two albums, “High Energy” and “Mary, Scherrie & Susaye.” Singing alongside original member Mary Wilson and Scherrie Payne, Susaye quickly found her niche in the group and among the group’s fans. Susaye took lead on “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” in the group’s live shows, which never failed to earn a standing ovation, and recorded “High Energy”, the title song from the 1976 “High Energy” album. On June 12, 1977, the Supremes performed their final farewell performance at the Drury Lane Theater in London and the trio officially disbanded.
In 1979, two years after The Supremes disbanded, Susaye and sister Supreme Scherrie Payne recorded a duo album on Motown Records titled “Partners” The critically acclaimed album was written and produced by the duo and featured the single “Leaving Me Was The Best Thing You’ve Ever Done.”
Susaye sang lead on jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine’s 1986 single “Children of the Ghetto.” She recorded with Ian Levine’s Motorcity label, based in the United Kingdom, in 1989. She released two solo singles on Motorcity – “Stop, I Need You Now” (1990) and her own version of Deniece Williams’ hit “Free” (1991, which she co-wrote). At Motorcity, she also recorded the duet “It’s Impossible” with Billy Eckstine.
2002 was an exciting year for Susaye as she released her first solo album titled “No Fear Here.” Two singles and a video were released. Susaye Greene penned most of the album herself. Ms. Greene released her second solo album, “Brave New Shoes” in 2005, which included her remake of The Supremes’ classic “High Energy.”
In 2014 Motown records reissued Scherrie and Susaye’s 1979 “Partners” album on CD. This digitally remastered release inspired the Ladies to revive the music from their duo album and on July 5, 2014, Ms. Greene, along with Scherrie Payne performed at the Sheraton Ballroom in Los Angeles, CA. The following year the duo performed at Sheila E’s E Spot in Sherman Oaks, CA.
In the Summer of 2017 Scherrie Payne called upon Susaye Greene to sing alongside her and Joyce Vincent in the Former Supremes trio. Susaye excitedly accepted the offer and the trio hasn’t miss a beat! Photo shoots and rehearsals instantly took place and the new lineup emerged to much fanfare. It’s noteworthy to point out that the current lineup of Scherrie Payne, Susaye Greene and Joyce Vincent were to be the 1977 lineup of Supremes. However, plans changed and Motown chose to disband The Supremes, and the lineup never got a chance to perform together……Until Now!
Scherrie Payne, Susaye Greene and Joyce Vincent continue to perform all over the world with live performances, TV appearances and new exciting recordings. Scherrie and Susaye are proud of their Supreme history, and continue to present this legendary music to audiences all over the world as……Scherrie Payne & Susaye Greene, Formerly of The Supremes!
(Courtesy of https://www.scherrieandsusayeformersupremes.com)
TSM: Thank you so much for doing the interview. I’m really honoured to have you in the magazine.
SG: Thank you, it’s my pleasure. It is, I enjoy you so much in The Royal Society and The Royal Gardeners. It’s nice to do it.
TSM: What first got you into music?
SG: Oh my, that’s kind of the mother load. It’s my family, we’re all in music and there was always music around me. Even if there hadn’t been, I’m told that I always sang to myself from before I could even speak. So, it was just in my heart. That’s the best way to put it. It has just always been a part of my life. I’ve always known that I was going to be involved in music, or some kind of creative thing. It’s just always how I expressed myself.
TSM: It must have been a special moment when you ended up becoming a member of The Supremes. How did you get discovered for the group?
SG: I was singing with Stevie Wonder at the time, and Wonderlove was a very self-contained group; there were ten musicians and singers, and consequently, we would write all the time. We worked six days a week, even when we were traveling we would write together, produce songs together, record and we opened for Stevie Wonder.
After awhile, an opportunity came up through my mother, who was on the board of the Beverly Hills Branch in California, and on the board with her was Bob Jones, who was head of publicity at Motown. He told her that one of the ladies was leaving and asked if I’d be interested. It was as simple as that. I’m not particularly an impulsive person, but I’ve always been very intuitive, let’s put it that way, particularly about my career. So, when I heard that, it sounded like something that I should try to get involved with if I could. They were out of town at the time, The Supremes (the ladies) were out of town on the road, so I spoke to their manager. He took me out to eat and discuss whether I was serious about it. At the time, I had some hit songs, so I was kind of cocky about what I wanted to do.
The thing was when I was in Wonderlove, I had free reign, creatively. I could sing what I wanted to, aside from Stevie’s songs; you had to know all of them all the time as you never knew what he was going to perform, but I was at a creative point where I was very happy and the freedom is the thing. When I spoke to Pedro Ferrer, who was the manager, he said that I would be in a position to write songs for the group and to have a lot of creative input. That was very important to me, but that didn’t turn out to be true as it was a lot more restricted, and the ladies had never been involved. The original Supremes had never been involved on the creative side. So, performing was Scherrie Payne and Mary Wilson, Scherrie had come in a few years before I did. It was really Mary’s group at that point, and she didn’t want someone in the group who had more creative control than she did, basically. I always felt very restricted creatively, but it was a lot of fun, tremendous traveling and you know everything first class and beautiful. The comradery of being with those two ladies going around the world traveling and entertaining people, meeting people all over the world opened a lot of doors in that way for me. So, I’m not really complaining about the situation, as much as it wasn’t creative; it didn’t make me happy creatively right at a time when I had been given such freedom. That’s life, not just showbiz. You balance, there’s always balance, things that you like and don’t like.
TSM: What are your favourite Supreme songs to perform live?
SG: My favourites, I have a couple. I like “Love is Like an Itching in My Heart.” I love that and I’m not sure what it is about the song, except it’s very lively and I love that. And then I’d say “High Energy.” It was one off my solo release, and pretty well-known among the fans. It’s a song that’s relevant, I think, regardless of time. That’s the thing about songs to me. When I say relevant, it’s still fresh. The message of it is still fresh, so everybody can relate to it. That’s what I think makes a song special to you.
TSM: How do you prepare for a show?
SG: Try to get some sleep. Lol Getting a lot of sleep is not always possible. It’s a strange dichotomy, traveling and touring. It’s glamorous on the one end, what you’re doing is a lot of fun, you’re meeting very sparkling people and they treat you well, but you’re moving around a lot and you’re in places that are not your comfort zone. Flying a lot, and I enjoy that, but getting ready for shows, you do a lot of rehearsal. When we go out for a show (of course, right now we’re locked down, but under normal circumstances) we would be rehearsing. We rehearse every few days because it’s a lot of material. We perform a 90-minute show for the most part. A lot of rehearsal, and you have to know the songs and keep up on it. Lyrics go from your head, they do and slip away. So, that’s what you have to refresh. Basically, when we’re out there and on the road, you try to eat well and get as much rest as you can. That’s the most important preparation.
TSM: With all your performances worldwide, what is one of your most memorable venues you’ve performed at and why?
SG: Oh wow, there are so many, but what sticks out are two. One was in Finlo, in the Netherlands, and it was a theater that was so beautiful. The acoustics were just perfect and you didn’t really need a mic. You can just stand and sing like at the opera house.
There were so many special performances, and the part that gets you is so many of The Supremes fans (not just The Supremes fans, but fans of each of us as well) followed us for years, and bought the records, and waited for the chance to speak to you. It reminds me of a gig that we did in England, one of the last gigs that we did. There were people that I have known literally forty years that showed up, and it was emotional. A lot of the fans are older now, but they stuck with you. You see guys that you haven’t seen in forty years. That’s pretty special for somebody to get on a plane and come see you.
TSM: You’ve written hit records for Michael Jackson, Deniece Williams, and many others. What would you say are the key qualities that make a song successful?
SG: I think if you really knew that than you could write nothing but hit songs, but it’s a mysterious quality that touches somebody’s heart. It sounds simple, but it’s really a complex human thing. Let me give you an example. “I Can’t Help It,” which is on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album. That song was one of the few songs that wasn’t actually a single off that album, but thousands of people have written me about that song to say, “it came to me at a time when I needed to hear something like that,” and that’s really the key to a hit song. If someone’s life is affected by it, and you know very young people even just want to dance maybe, or it makes them happy, or with other people it’s at a certain time that this song comes into your life. That’s really the thing, if you think about how many millions there are and for people to like a song well enough that they play it over and over. That’s the thing that’s surprising, that I hadn’t realized. People record songs of mine over and over through the years, and you’re astounded. I don’t even really take ownership of the feeling of writing a song, it’s out there in the Universe, and it fits or it doesn’t. You re-write and re-write until it fits, and every word is authentic. It just comes out if it’s true, if it’s meant to be.
TSM: Back in 2002, you released your first solo album, No Fear Here, and then a second solo album, Brave New Shoes in 2005. Tell us a bit about these albums and the inspiration behind the titles.
SG: Well, I always give a title according to what I’m going through. The title will come to me after it’s finished and it’s all coming together. You can see how songs go one into the other. As a producer, it’s important for it to have a certain flow, and then for the title to reflect that in my life.
No Fear Here was really about stepping out, and we all need to step out from our comfort zone if we can and show bravery and boldness that is necessary in order to stand in front of thousands of people, and be a performer, or just put yourself emotionally out there because songs are very emotional. It’s like having a baby, it’s yours, it’s your child. I think most people who have heard No Fear Here don’t realize it was a collection of songs that had never been recorded professionally that were on cassettes. I have very high standards in the studio, that’s my technique on my process in the studio. I want the sound to be forever, I want it to sound fresh forever. However, the songs on No Fear Here as opposed to Brave New Shoes, which is why it was called that, was a different spec. No Fear Here were recordings taken from the cassette and cleaned up in the studio. The engineer that I work with has a tremendous ear, and is daring in that he will find little sounds and things for me that he knows I like. We worked together for a long, long time. I wanted it to have the essence of this is what it is. With Brave New shoes, we went into the studio and everything was recorded brand new, and was written for that particular project. I’m very proud of both of them for the essence of what they were. When I got a backer for No Fear Here, I didn’t know how far along someone I had just met would go with it, how much money they were willing to put into it and all of that. So, I felt limited in my boldness, even though it was unframed. We put it together and they were great songs. The kicker of it is that I’ve been thinking recently about re-recording some of those songs in a new way and put a new spin on them.
TSM: What’s your process for writing lyrics? And where do you get the inspiration for your songs?
SG: Well, it depends because it’s different with different people. Like with Stevie Wonder, we’ll write a piece, there will be a tiny piece of a song, it will come into your head, he’ll start singing whatever it is, and it has no words, just sounds. My talent is to hear those sounds that he’s mumbling and they are a picture to me. I interpret it that way, but it’s all like I said before, it’s all out there in the Universe. So, you can write a lyric to something, and it doesn’t feel right, but it’s out there, and you keep picking, and it will show up. So, it’s really very exciting in a sense of what’s spur of the moment, and what is fresh to you. It just comes. It’s not even something you can explain because the process is different with other people. Like some people, there’s a fantastic keyboard player and singer/entertainer. Like Ronnie Foster, a jazz musician, and we have written a lot of songs together. So many of them have been recorded and were successful. What he will do is give me a track, and there’s no melody or lyrics, and it fits in there, and you just start humming, and it comes out. If it fits, it fits, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, and you toss that out.
There are literally only a few notes altogether, and literally only so many melodies. Stevie Wonder has taught me that you can twist, find a situation, and say it a different way if you try. I’m very respectful and loving of language. That’s the way we were brought up. My mother was an educator, as as a musician, and such a tremendous influence on my life, particularly my creative life. My mother believed that you jump on in there, and you put your whole heart into it, and look and see, and go for it.
I’m inspired by everything. I paint and colour affects me so much. With my gardens, I put in what I want to paint, or what inspires me. In the winter, I always still have colours because of the things that I’ve planted, and I know that it lifts my spirits. It’s the same thing with writing lyrics. You’re inspired, and if you’re not inspired, you become inspired. It’s all the things that we have, see, hear and love that inspire us. Other peoples things can inspire us as well. So, I’m never without inspiration.
TSM: When did you start painting?
SG: Painting was probably my first expression. I’ve always painted, and as a kid I did portraits for people. That’s when I began doing portraits. I could not only see people, but also see their personalities, and that’s what portraiture is really about. You’re conveying a person’s spirit and personality, there’s sense of humour sometimes, sometimes sadness, or whatever it is. I always wanted paints, brushes, linseed oil and stuff like that. It’s thrilling to bring something, or to see something in your head, whether it’s music, art, technology, engineering, or whatever. It’s exciting to you because it’s moving forward, and I love that.
TSM: Who are your major music influences?
SG: My goodness, that’s a long list. I listen to a lot of everything. I love music. I love pop and classical music. I can think of certain things that I need to hear to create an atmosphere. I always paint to music. I listen to Mozart for a certain feeling. I listen to Donny Hathaway. I love Stevie Wonder’s music. I’ll listen to Michael Jackson, Sting, a lot of modern stuff. I like some country music as well, almost every genre of music. It’s really about the spur of the moment. There’s a movie called The Fifth Element, that’s very popular, more of a cult following than anything. I can put that soundtrack on at any time, and it makes me happy. There’s so many things like that, both instrumental music, or music with people singing. The genre doesn’t really matter. You hear new and different things all the time, even with the things you listen to all the time. There are a lot of young artists that I follow and they are just tremendous. There’s a lot of stuff out there that I never listen to and never will, but I will put things on if I enjoy it. It’s all about the way it makes me feel. So, it changes from day to day, but I’m still hungry for music. I’m still hungry for creativity, and I know that I couldn’t live without it.
TSM: What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters and artists?
SG: I’d say prepare, first of all. If you’re interested in music, take music. Study music, and when I say study, you can learn how to read music and how to do the proper things, but that is not going to be the essence of what you do. It’s hard, you have to be obsessed with it, and not be afraid to promote yourself because at the beginning particularly, you’re not going to have anyone to promote you. The hardest thing is you have to be able to take rejection because people might even like what you’re doing, but they might be having a bad day. If you want to be a good singer than listen to good singers, listen to how they sing and then beyond that, you have to find your own style. You have to try to be unique as well, and be ready to be in it for the long run because that’s what it’s going to take. You are to the most advantage if you’re a songwriter, you write your songs and study; there are places where you can go to get better at it. You keep at it, and don’t listen to anybody telling you that you can’t do it because you can. If no one will back you than you get a job and back yourself. You save your money and record yourself because you can do that now. You can have a recording studio at home now, most major artists that I know do. It’s about being very strong and strong-minded, supporting yourself, fear leaving yourself, pushing forward and mostly preparing. If you can’t take the downs than you’ll never have the ups; it’s like hills and valleys. Everything changes. Music changes, so you need to listen to what’s out there, popular and do you. Don’t try to sound like anybody else. Do you. We all have a different personality, so your music would have a different personality as well.
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
SG: I think if I had the power to do anything, there are a couple things I would do. Firstly, that kids have the kind of engagement that their parents really should give them. The kind of attention, so that they don’t feel separated or let down, or not have high self-esteem. If I could, as well, I would make sure they eat properly. So many people are so busy and they’ll throw meals together, and kids don’t have enough nutrition.
Aside from that, it would be to make sure women knew that the attention of men is not as important as them pursuing their dreams because it would change their lives if all you think about is boys. It’s why so many young girls get pregnant so early. I’m not judgemental about that, it’s very difficult to grow up and focus enough on your education to have it. So many in America take that for granted, so many young people. However, the honour of getting the chance to learn and not to have to walk five miles to get water, not be denied education because you had to be the one that stayed at home, or because you didn’t have the opportunity because you were a girl to get an education. That’s what I would instill in them that they have the right and the opportunity to do anything with their lives that they wanted to do. It’s not just girls, as there are a lot of boys that are stuck.
TSM: What is one of your favourite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
SG: I think first of all, it really is better to give than to receive. There’s so many quotes…, but I believe, “Do right,” is a tremendous thing to instill in your heart. Do what’s right. That’s about it.
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share?
SG: We’re working on so many things right now. Like so many people, I try to think ahead and from here. If I stay in the moment because the moment is important. You know I can’t blow off the fact that the world has been affected to the extent we’re all in a particular place. I know that so much of that is because people are supposed to change direction now from what you’re doing because I know that’s true because so many things have fallen out the window that will never be the same again. What has happened, has happened on such a large scale. So, I look at it like what things people need. And those are the things I’m trying to put together in my life. I have quite a grasp on that, and know a lot of the things that they need are called entertainment. It’s more inspiration than entertainment, and spirit lifting. A lot of it goes under those. I’m given the chance now to write, read, paint, create, and do all the things that I do naturally, and they are fitting into new spaces. I won’t speak on specifics, other to say, I don’t know if a lot of the music industry will survive in the form that it is because we don’t know what’s going to happen. On the other hand, we still have all of this inside, and I always believe in moving forward. None of us know how long we have on this Earth, so it makes a difference if you are put in a space of consciousness to try to do everything that you really want to do. That’s where I am.
I don’t have a specific thing that I am advertising or pushing/marketing, that sort of thing at the moment. I’m recording, I’ve got a lot of stuff recorded, and I’m going to release an album very soon.
My heart is firmly on my sleeves at the moment for the world. I care about what happens, and I know that whatever I do, it’s going to be to try to uplift people.
TSM: Thank you so much again for the interview.
SG: It’s such a pleasure. I’m so glad it’s you. Thank you for asking me, I really appreciate it.