It had now been nearly five hours since the taping of Motown’s twenty-fifth-anniversary special, “Motown 25,” began. At the rate things were going, I could see this was going to last until midnight, but I didn’t mind. I was happy to be back among my friends: the Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson—people I’d worked with for years at Motown. I was also proud, knowing that within just moments, I would be standing onstage with my friends Diane Ross and Cindy Birdsong for our first reunion in over thirteen years. I just tried to relish every second. Next on the show were DeBarge, High Inergy, and a clip of Rick James, followed by Smokey Robinson and Linda Ronstadt’s duets on “Ooo Baby Baby” and “The Tracks of My Tears.” The segment ended on two lighter notes—a film of Motown staffers, many of whom had been with the company from the start, singing the company song Smokey wrote years ago (with lines like, “We’re a swinging company . . .”) and Richard Pryor’s comic medieval fable about the young warrior Berry’s quest for gold records in the kingdom of Hitsville. We were “three fair maidens from the Projects of Brewster.” How far from that I was now, but, thinking minutes ahead to the reunion, I knew that I was going home.
Adam Ant started singing his version of the Supremes’ first number-one hit, “Where Did Our Love Go.” I was as surprised as everyone else backstage to see him doing our song. “Why is he doing that?” people asked over and over. Ant was typical of the British New Wave rockers, with his makeup, chains, feathers, and earrings. Our eyes were glued to the monitor when suddenly we heard the audience screaming. Ant grinned until he saw what the commotion was all about. The camera cut to stage right, and we saw Diane in a short black satin skirt and silver-beaded jacket moving toward Ant, doing a bump and grind. For a second, Ant was caught off guard, but he moved toward her and danced along with her as much as he could before she disappeared again.
People in the room were mortified.
“I can’t believe Diane would do that!”
“The Supremes were always so classy, why would she act like that?”
“How could she just jump up there while someone else was performing?”
The wings were filling with people, all trying to get the best view of the reunion. There were some more clips of us, including our last appearance with Diane on Ed Sullivan’s show on December 14, 1969. Diane was walking up the aisle, toward the stage. Once she got onstage, she took the white fox stole she’d flung over her shoulder and tossed it to the floor as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. The applause got louder, and I was surrounded by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, Richard Pryor, Martha Reeves, and some of my friends from the Temptations. Suddenly I heard Diane reciting the first lines to Nick and Valerie’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”:
“If you need me, call me . . .”
Knowing Diane as they did, my friends backstage were encouraging me to do something when I got out there:
“Step on that fur, Mary!” Richard Pryor urged me, half-teasing.
“Kick it!” shouted a female voice.
I knew where they were coming from, and I had a little laugh over it, but I was soon swept up in the moment. Suddenly, everyone got quiet and Diane began speaking. She said she would be there forever if she started to talk about her life with Motown. Then she said a strange thing:
“But Berry had always felt that he’s never been appreciated . . .”
When the camera picked out Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder and president, it seemed to me, from the look on his face, that he was puzzled by her remarks. Then Diane said, “It’s not about the people who leave Motown”—of which Diane was one—“but it’s about the people who come back, and tonight everybody came back.” At that moment I thought of all the people, like my dear friend Florence Ballard, who couldn’t come back. Diane’s words prompted a standing ovation, and she gave Berry the high sign. He responded in kind, then turned his palms upward, as if to say, “I let you go.”