Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremes, the group that not only racked up one of the most impressive string of hits in music history but also helped break the color barrier, has died.
Mary’s longtime publicist, Jay Schwartz, said she passed at her home in Henderson, Nevada. He did not reveal her cause of death.
It’s impossible to understate the impact and popularity of The Supremes. They hit like a nuclear bomb in the 60’s with a string of chart-topping songs, beginning with “Where Did Our Love Go,” and then “Baby Love,” Stop in the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Reflections,” “I Hear a Symphony,” “Love Child,” “Someday We’ll Be Together,” and on and on and on.
The Supremes were Motown’s most successful act in the 60’s, with 12 singles that hit #1. They still remain the #1 female recording group of all time.Getty
Mary, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, grew up in Detroit’s Brewster Project. They formed the group in high school and hung around Motown Records, lobbying Barry Gordy for a break. He told them to finish high school and come back, and they did.
They actually started out as The Primettes … a counterpoint to another group — The Primes. FYI … The Primes ultimately changed their name to The Temptations.
Barry Gordy saw something in The Supremes and decided they would be the group to take Motown to clubs that did not traditionally cater to white audiences, like New York’s Copacabana. The Supremes did just that and they are widely credited for helping move the ball in the 60’s civil rights movement. They were prized TV guests on programs like “American Bandstand,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and their own TV specials.
The group eventually became Diana Ross and The Supremes and friction developed between Mary and Diana. Diana Ross left the group in 1970 and she was replaced by Jean Terrell. Lots of people in the music biz assumed that would be the end of The Supremes, but far from it.
The newly-configured Supremes racked up yet another string of hits … “Up the Ladder to the Roof,” “Stoned Love,” “Nathan Jones,” “Everybody’s Got the Right to Love,” “Floy Joy,” and more.
There were more changes in the group and eventually they disbanded in 1977. There was talk of a reunion from time to time, but Diana Ross was never open to it.
Mary continued to perform as a solo act and became an author and motivational speaker.
Barry Gordy said of Mary’s passing, “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown’ … I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of The Supremes. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.”
Mary leaves behind a daughter, Turkessa and a son, Pedro Antonio, Jr., and many grandchildren.
She was 76. RIP Mary.