|(left to right) Kathy Merrick, Kaaran Ragland and Althea Burkhalter-Peyton.|
Kaaren Ragland insists that the trio who perform the hits of The Supremes are no tribute act.
That's not just because Kaaren sang with the soul legends, but also because she believes The Sounds of the Supremes have inherited their musical mantle.
Founded in 1989, the only group of their type legally endorsed by Motown have achieved worldwide success performing all the big hits led by the 70s and 80s Supreme.
The group are coming to the Jam House, Birmingham's popular live music and dining venue, on Wednesday, May 30 to perform more than 20 of the songs, from Baby Love and I Hear A Symphony to Stop In The Name of Love and Where Did Our Love Go in what is promised to be an energy packed show.
“We are a spin-off of The Supremes,” says Kaaren. “We go to the original genesis of the group because we all sing the leads and we stick to Supremes material, as opposed to adding show material, and we have enhanced the harmonies and the choreography.”
Kaaren joined The Supremes in 1977 after being spotted while performing in the clubs of Los Angeles by Phil Moore, a producer and arranger who launched the career of Lena Horne.
“The Supremes needed a replacement for their wonderful vocalist Scherrie Payne for a concert in Las Vegas and Phil recommended me,” says Kaaren.
“The audition was very daunting because I was very young and green and the group were so famous, but it was an amazing experience especially as I also looked a bit like Scherrie and got the gig.”
Kaaren toured Europe the following year with what became known as Mary Wilson's 70s/80s Supremes. It included her first performance at the Birmingham Odeon, and she continued to tour with the group until it was disbanded in the mid 1980s.
The sound of The Supremes, she says, lives on in The Sounds of the Supremes: “We try to recreate the original sound while adding more harmony because of our bigger voices. A lot of the original hits were two-part harmonies - but they were from 1959 when the group were in their teens.
“We've also added a lot more choreography because the original singers didn't move much, so we are a more visual act – and we're really happy when our audiences sing along and dance to us.
“People tell us that if The Supremes were still together in their late 40s and early 50s, then that would be us, which is very flattering.”
Kaaren will be joined on stage by Kathy Merrick and Althea Burkhalter-Peyton, the threesome having performed as a group for the past 15 years.
“Kathy is a beautiful vocalist who was a founder member of Shades of Lace on Polygram in the '80s, while Althea has a great gospel voice that you could also hear when she was a member of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas,” says Kaaren.
So did The Sounds of The Supremes expect their success?
“We were surprised – and yet not because it really all starts with the music. Motown has always had wonderful writers like Holland-Dozier, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
“If it's not on the page, it's not on the street.”
The Sounds of the Supremes perform at The Jam House in St Paul's Square, Birmingham on Wednesday, May 30. Tickets, priced at £15 (plus 10% booking fee) from www.thejamhouse.com