Mary Wilson…our world is empty without you.
When Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard (along with their friend Barbara Martin) first came to Motown, they were known as The Primettes. Before their first single’s release, they had been rechristened The Supremes. While there was initial skepticism of the name, any such doubts clearly dissipated when “Where Did Our Love Go” reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on August 22, 1964. It was the first of a staggering twelve No. 1s The Supremes would notch before the end of the 1960s. As the most successful American group of the decade – not to mention America’s most successful vocal group of all time – “The Supremes” was more than apt. Only one member of the group was there at the very beginning and there at the very end. Mary Wilson was a true American success story. Talented, tenacious, and beautiful, she exemplified African-American greatness. She and her fellow Supremes shattered every glass ceiling imaginable, making it possible for black artists to achieve universal success and paving the way for the superstar artists of today. Motown was The Sound of Young America, and Mary Wilson was one of its most vibrant and visible messengers.
In addition to being one of the familiar voices anchoring that instantly recognizable Supremes sound, Mary brought passion and vivacity to every endeavor: whether performing onstage to delighted audiences across the country and always taking the time to meet her fans, writing best-selling books (including 2019’s Supreme Glamour), recording solo music, acting in musicals, mentoring young artists, engaging in philanthropy, championing artists’ rights, or gamely Dancing with the Stars on the ABC television show. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Vocal Group Hall of Fame inductee, Mary used her platform to better the lives of others while bringing joy with her timeless music.
On a personal note: it’s been one of the great honors and privileges of my life to have known Mary Wilson. When she had no obligation to do so, she kindly supported our Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records reissues of The Supremes’ Merry Christmas and Diana Ross and The Supremes’ “Sing and Perform ‘Funny Girl’,” even penning a new introduction for the latter release. Mary was down-to-earth, a wonderful storyteller, and a great lady with a tremendous spirit and a big heart. To watch her was to take in a lesson about stage presence – except she had the kind you couldn’t simply learn. Call it charisma, call it magnetism…Mary Wilson had it. You couldn’t take your eyes off her. To be around her was to feel connected to history – not just history she witnessed, but history she created. Yet she remained very much in the moment, looking forward to the next project and to sharing her enthusiasm with her cherished family and friends. She endured numerous obstacles and hardships throughout her life, but survived them with grace and strength.
As long as there’s music, there will be “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “I Hear a Symphony” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Not to mention “I Keep It Hid” and “A Heart Like Mine” and “You Are the Heart of Me,” just some of the songs on which Mary stepped into the spotlight to sing lead vocals. Her voice was part of the soundtrack of our lives – so inviting, so exciting. Happily, it will go on and on and on. C’mon, sing along – just a baby, baby or two. We love you, Mary.