Mary Wilson longest-reigning original member of the Supremes dies at 76
Mary Wilson, one of the original members of the Supremes, the 1960s Detroit group that helped establish the Motown sound and propelled Diana Ross to superstardom, has died. She was 76.
Wilson died Monday night at her home in Nevada and the cause was not immediately clear, publicist Jay Schwartz said.
“I just woke up to this news,” Ross tweeted on Tuesday, offering her condolences to Wilson’s family. “I am reminded that each day is a gift,” she added, writing, “I have so many wonderful memories of our time together.”
Wilson, Ross and Florence Ballard made up the first successful configuration of the Supremes under the Detroit-based Motown Records label. Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967, and Wilson stayed with the group until it was officially disbanded by Motown in 1977.The group’s first No. 1, million-selling song, “Where Did Our Love Go,” was released June 17, 1964. Touring at the time, Wilson said there was a moment when she realized they had a hit song.
“I remember that instead of going home on the bus, we flew,” she told The Associated Press in 2014. “That was our first plane ride. We flew home. We had really hit big.”The group — the premier act of Motown Records during the 1960s — also recorded the hit songs “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Up the Ladder to the Roof,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Wilson, Ross and Ballard were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Wilson, who grew up in Detroit and graduated from Northeastern High School in January 1962, spoke on a panel and performed in 2017 at Detroit Homecoming, the annual event produced by Crain’s that brings together Detroit expats.
Wilson, in a recent YouTube video posted Saturday, said she was excited to celebrate Black history month, her upcoming birthday (March 6) and teased fans with the announcement that Universal Music had plans to release some of her music.
“We’re going to be talking about the Supremes, yeah, 60th anniversary, and I’m going to be talking a lot about that mainly because I’ve finally decided how to work with Universal and they’re going to release new recordings, Mary Wilson recordings,” she said. “Yes! At last!”
“Hopefully some of that will be out on my birthday,” she continued. “We’ll see. I’ve got my fingers crossed here. Yes I do.”
Motown founder Berry Gordy mourned Wilson, saying in a statement to Variety: “I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes. 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.”
Gordy moved Motown to Los Angeles in 1972. The Motown Museum and Hitsville U.S.A. on West Grand Boulevard, where many of the label’s biggest hits were recorded, is a popular tourist destination.
Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry said in a statement: “… Mary Wilson was an icon. She broke barriers and records as an original member of the Supremes, one of the greatest music acts of all time. She was a legend who was not only extremely talented, but equally beautiful. We join Mary’s fervent fan base in remembering her life and profound cultural impact. Motown Museum will continue to honor, appreciate and celebrate her legacy for fans around the world and for generations to come.”
Following the Supremes’ disbandment, Wilson released the New York Times best-selling book, “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” in 1986. She released her second book, “Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together,” in 1990. Her last book, “Supreme Glamour,” was written with Mark Bego and was released in 2019.