Mary Wilson, founding and original member of The Supremes, passed away suddenly this evening according to a statement from her longtime friend and publicist, Jay Schwartz. She was at her home in Las Vegas, NV. She was 76.
She is survived by: her daughter Turkessa and grandchildren (Mia, Marcanthony, Marina); her son, Pedro Antonio Jr and grandchildren (Isaiah, Ilah, Alexander, Alexandria); her sister Kathryn; her brother, Roosevelt; her adopted son/cousin Willie and grandchildren (Erica (great granddaughter, Lori), Vanessa, Angela). Services will be private due to Covid restrictions. A celebration of Mary Wilson’s life will take place later this year.
A singer, best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, mother, and grandmother, the legendary Mary Wilson made great strides on her inevitable journey to greatness.
As an original/founding member of The Supremes, she changed the face of pop music to become a trendsetter who broke down social, racial, and gender barriers, which all started with the wild success of their first number one song. Formed in Detroit as The Primettes in 1959, The Supremes were Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s, scoring 12 No. 1 singles. They also continue to reign as America’s most successful vocal group to date. Their influence not only carries on in contemporary R&B, soul and pop, they also helped pave the way for mainstream success by Black artists across all genres.
Mary achieved an unprecedented 12 #1 hits with 5 of them being consecutive from 1964-1965. Those songs are “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again” according to Billboard Magazine. In 2018, Billboard celebrated the 60th anniversary of Motown with a list of “The Hot 100’s Top Artists of All Time”, where The Supremes ranked at #16 and still remain the #1 female recording group of all time. January 21, 2021 marked the 60th anniversary of the day The Supremes signed with Motown in 1961. This year, Mary kicked off the celebration of the 60th anniversary of The Supremes.
With the same passion as she did singing with the original Supremes as well as with her solo career, the world renowned performer was an advocate for social and economic challenges in the United States and abroad. Ms. Wilson used her fame and flair to promote a diversity of humanitarian efforts including ending hunger, raising HIV/AIDS awareness and encouraging world peace. Mary was working on getting a U.S. postage stamp of her fellow band mate and original Supreme Florence Ballard who passed away in 1976.
2019 marked an exciting time for Mary. On top of releasing her new book, she stretched her dancing muscles when she joined the cast of the 28th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”. With no sign of slowing down Ms. Wilson published her fourth book “Supreme Glamour. This highly anticipated coffee-table book showcased the gowns The Supremes were known for over the decades and delved into more history of the most successful female recording group of all time. She was honored at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills celebrating her work in music and her influence on young African Americans and entertainment. Her conversation with Janice Littlejohn left the audience laughing with her unmatched humor and standing with applause displaying her graceful composure throughout the night. Showing the same love she has shown to all her fans, Mary gladly met and personally thanked every attendee that night for their support throughout her career.
Mary’s influence reached beyond music. In 2018, Mary’s longtime fight in the passage of the Music Modernization Act (MMA) came to fruition when the United States legislation signed the act into law on October 11, 2018. The act aims to modernize copyright-related issues for new music and audio recordings due to new forms of technology like digital streaming which did not protect music recorded before February 15, 1972. Her tireless advocacy for this legislation included trips to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress personally to advocate for legacy artists gaining fair compensation when their songs are played on digital radio stations.
Mary’s last solo recording, her song “Time to Move On” reached #23 on the Billboard Dance charts, which marked her first time on the charts with a solo recording, since The Supremes. She was working on new projects for 2021 including an album she recently teased on her YouTube channel. Her primary love of preserving the legacy of The Supremes and introducing her music to new generations.
MOTOWN – THE SOUND THAT CHANGED AMERICA
As an irresistible force of social and cultural change, Berry Gordy’s legendary Motown Records made its mark not just on the music industry, but society at large, with a sound that has become one of the most significant musical accomplishments and stunning success stories of the 20th century. The Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and later Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, Michael Jackson & the Jackson 5 and Lionel Richie & the Commodores, their music communicated and brought together a racially divided country and segregated society, around the world, touching all people of all ages and race.
After breaking down barriers and having pop radio embrace Motown artists, Berry Gordy set his sights on television. He booked his artists on popular shows such as American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. After captivating national audiences with near-weekly performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, making history as among the first African-American artists on the show, and The Supremes were the first R&B act to play the country’s most prestigious night club, New York’s Copacabana, which paved the way for other R&B acts into the top cabaret circuits around the world.
Ms. Wilson’s “Dare to Dream” lecture, which she gives to young people, emphasizes the need for personal perseverance to achieve their goals, despite obstacles and adversities in their lives. The topic is the foundation of her best-selling autobiography “Dreamgirl - My Life as a Supreme.” Ms. Wilson later authored its sequel, “Supreme Faith - Someday We’ll Be Together.” In 2000, these two books, along with updated chapters, were combined to complete her third book. Her fourth book, “Supreme Glamour,” is a coffee table hardcover featuring the gowns, history and legacy of the Supremes.
“THE STORY OF the Supremes FROM THE MARY WILSON Gown COLLECTION”
“The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection” spotlights more than 50 gowns exposing the international community to the impact their fashion had on social issues in the United States. The exhibit traces their career from the early days when they were known as The Primettes to the glamorous height of their fame in the 70s. Their success story helped change racial perceptions during the time of the American Civil Rights movement and to appeal to the people of all ethnic backgrounds. A magnificent collection of dresses worn by Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard for live performances, television performances, including the Butterfly dress worn on their television special in 1968, and on album covers are featured alongside contemporary photographs and magazine spreads.
The exquisite gowns were curated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for Ms. Wilson and later exhibited at the Detroit Historical Museum, the New York State Museum in Albany and the Long Island Museum. Several gowns have also been displayed at The Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York as part of the Rock and Roll of Fame Museum exhibit.
The gowns worn by Ms. Wilson and the original Supremes – Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, as well as the 1970s Supremes – were on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, then showcased in the United Kingdom before starting a tour for two more years in Europe.
MS. WILSON: THE “GOODWILL AMBASSADOR”
Ms. Wilson has toured the globe not only as a performer, but as advocate on behalf of social and civic issues. As a Supreme, she performed for Britain’s Queen Mother and the future King of Sweden and other international audiences. However, Ms. Wilson’s global stature grew after former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell named her one of nine cultural ambassadors in 2003.
As an official “goodwill” ambassador, Ms. Wilson visited poverty-stricken areas in Bangladesh, where she witnessed children as young as five years old having to break bricks to earn money for their families. In Pakistan, she spoke at Fatima Jinnah Woman University about pursuing their goals and “Daring to Dream.” In Mozambique and Botswana, Ms. Wilson addressed young people about the dangers of HIV and AIDS and her quest for world peace.
In November 2004, she was one of the featured performers to headline the United Nations’ “World AIDS Day” concert at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. She later returned to the United Nations Building to lecture about the poverty, hunger and destruction she witnessed during her trips.
SPEAKING AGAINST LANDMINES
In 2007, Ms. Wilson was elated to be named spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), a non-government organization that establishes partnerships to raise money and awareness for landmine clearance projects across the globe, including Sri Lanka, Laos and Vietnam. When it was announced, Ralph L. Cwerman, president of the Humpty Dumpty Institute, called her “an original American icon” whose involvement will heighten attention to removal of these unexploded ordnances.
“HDI is privileged to have her as its new spokesperson,” Mr. Cwerman said. “Mine clearance and landmine awareness around the world will benefit greatly as Mary begins to speak out against these cruel weapons of war.”