Mary Wilson Of The Supremes
It was a vision of musical stardom as a Detroit teen that inspired Mary Wilson, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, to found one of the most successful female singing groups in recording history – The Supremes. Since then, Wilson has gone on to be a part of dozens of hit records, has written a best-selling autobiography, performed on stage and screen, lectured and toured the world, and continues to be looked up to as a singer who set the standard for females in the recording industry.
This past summer, Wilson performed a number of consecutive shows at Feinstein’s at the Regency, New York’s premiere supper club. In her “Mary Wilson: Up Close” show, she wowed audiences with an intimate selection of standards and easy-listening tunes that showcased her smoky voice and vocal prowess. Wilson closed the season at the prestigious nightclub, which The New York Post called “an invaluable New York institution,” and will continue another in-demand series of performances at the Empire Plush Room at the York Hotel in San Francisco from December 4th-16th.
As an original Supreme, Wilson was a much sought-after interview regarding the award-winning film DREAMGIRLS, currently on DVD. After covering the red carpet premiere for “Extra,” she endeared herself to a whole new generation of Hollywood stars and fans alike, including Golden Globe winners Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson, as well as Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg! The success of DREAMGIRLS has also rekindled interest in Wilson’s best-selling autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.
In addition to her tireless performing and trips to the studio to record her new album, Wilson, along with The Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Friends Against Musical Exploitation, is lobbying state governments to pass a bill prohibiting bogus musical groups from cashing in on the names and likeness of such famous acts as The Supremes, The Platters and The Four Tops. Wilson and company have proposed an amendment to the Truth in Advertising Act (1968) that would prevent such groups from performing under such classic bands’ names unless they contained an original member or had specific licenses to do so. To date, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, the Dakotas, Illinois, Nevada, and Texas have passed the bill in landslide majorities. Wilson’s goal is to garner enough state support (10 need to adopt the bill) to lobby Congress to pass a federal law. “We have given America and the world happiness with our music; it’s time that we have a law that protects us and our legacy,” Wilson states.
Tireless in her contributions to charity and society at large, Wilson was recently named as a spokesperson for The Humpty Dumpty Institute’s initiative to raise public awareness about the worldwide scourge of landmines. As HDI’s Mine Action Spokesperson, Wilson traveled to Sri Lanka and then Laos this past fall, visiting schools impacted by unexploded ordinance left over from the Vietnam War. After helping to detonate 58 bombs and declaring safe zones, she held a charity concert in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In addition, Wilson will adress the annual conference of the US Department of Agriculture on Food Security and in May will do another concert to kick off HDI’s Farmer Markets Program. In early summer, she will travel to Vietnam and visit the mine action program.
Additionally, in 2003, Wilson was named a US Cultural Ambassador by US Secretary of State Colin Powell as part of the “Culture Connect” program, whose goal is to improve cross-cultural understanding internationally. As such, she undertook missions to Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Asia and South America on behalf of the US Department of State. Wilson was also recently awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Paine College in Augusta, GA.
While growing up in Detroit’s Brewster Projects, a young Mary Wilson had long fantasized about being a performer, her love for singing having blossomed when she befriended Florence Ballard, Betty McGlown and Diane Ross at age 13. Fueled by their mutual love of music and their ambition for stardom, the quartet formed a singing group, The Primettes, and became the sister group of The Primes, who saw two members go on to form The Tempations. When Betty left the group to get married, the girls recruited Barbara Martin. Together they auditioned for then fledgling Motown label and were eventually signed. Barbara dropped out of the group, and the remaining trio of Mary, Flo and Diane became known as The Supremes.
At first, success eluded the girls, who recorded several albums before getting their first hit. In fact, they were dubbed the “No-Hit Supremes” until Motown founder Berry Gordy put them in touch with his top writing and producing team, Holland-Dozier-Holland. Four decades and 40 albums later, what once started as a dream has exceeded beyond Wilson’s wildest imagination. With an unprecedented 12 number-one hits, including five in a row – “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Stop, In The Name Of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again” – The Supremes set the precedent for super group success.
Wilson worked hard to keep the dream alive even after Florence and Diana left the group. In 1970, Berry Gordy brought in Jean Terrell to replace Ross, with Cindy Birdsong having replaced Florence Ballard. Together, they formed The New Supremes, racking up three top 10 hits [“Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Stoned Love”, and “River Deep, Mountain High” (with the Four Tops)].
In 1977, Mary knew it was time for her to pursue her own dream; Motown released Mary’s first solo album, “Mary Wilson,” which yielded the dance hit, “Red Hot,” in 1979. In 1992, Wilson released her first album in thirteen years, “Walk the Line,” which produced the single “One Night With You.” To this day Wilson continues to tour under the moniker of Mary Wilson of The Original Supremes, and has performed for handfuls of celebrities and politicians all over the world, including The Clintons at The White House.
Fans of Wilson can hear her smoky voice in the latest Supremes collection, Diana Ross & The Supremes: The No.1s, re-mastered original recordings of their chart-topping hits. With 24 tracks spanning 18 years of The Supremes sound, the album includes hits from the many reincarnations of the group including the original Supremes, Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Supremes post-Ross.
Throughout the late 70s and 80s, Mary hit the lecture circuit to tell her amazing story. She still lectures to this day, her “Dare To Dream” circuit including such organizations at American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, UNICEF and many more. Wilson eventually put her story to print, becoming a best-selling author with her autobiography, Dreamgirl…My Life As A Supreme. Dreamgirl went on to sell over 250,000 copies in hardback, becoming one of the most successful rock and roll autobiographies of all time.
The overwhelming success of that first book prompted Wilson to pen its sequel, Supreme Faith…Someday We’ll Be Together. Currently, The Complete Works by Mary Wilson combines the first two books with additional chapters added.
Throughout her career, Mary has enjoyed spreading her creative wings in other areas, although music remains her primary focus. Mary is the only original Supreme to undertake the challenge of legitimate theatre, making her stage debut in 1988 with “Beehive,” a musical tribute to the female groups of the 60s. Most recently, Wilson starred in a national tour of “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies,” the celebrated tribute to the music of the legendary jazz great. Her other theatre credits include “Leader of the Pack,” about the life of the songwriter Elly Greenwich, and numerous off-Broadway shows including “Mother’s Hubbard,” “Idealla’s Soul Shack,” “The Vagina Monologues” at the Detroit Opera House and “Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral,” where respected columnist Liz Smith proclaimed: “Mary Wilson, the sexiest and most attractive of the three original Supremes, a true survivor, makes her off-Broadway debut!” Wilson’s film credits include Disney’s TIGERTOWN, the documentaries BROWN SUGAR and THE GIRL GROUPS, and Lifetime Networks’ made for television movie, JACKIE’S BACK.
In addition to a stint as a guest judge on the FOX hit “American Juniors” and performing for ABC’s “Motown 45th Anniversary Special,” Wilson was last seen in Miramax’s ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, a documentary that catches up with the soul music stars of the 60s and 70s. Of Wilson in ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, the Los Angeles Times said “Mary Wilson remains strikingly attractive and a vibrant singer of much style and authority; Wilson may have been a backup singer with the Supremes but is in truth a lead singer with a star quality never fully recognized.”
Throughout her career, Mary Wilson has had the privilege and pleasure of performing all over the world. Many of her performances with The Supremes were requested by royalty, such as for Britain’s Queen Mother as well as for the King of Sweden. In 2000, Wilson had the prestigious honor of performing at the White House for the Millennium Celebration as well as two inaugural dinners held in President Bush’s honor.
A tireless humanitarian, Mary was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award by the National Foundation of Women Legislators and asked to join the Delegation of Woman Legislators. Wilson also participated in a Trade and Civil Life Conference in Bahrain with many of the kingdom’s highest officials, hosted by the Prince and Prime Minister of Bahrain. The Free Trade Bill between the US and Bahrain remains a project that Wilson is very proud to have been a part of. Wilson has also visited the African nations of Mozambique and Botswana, where she spoke with thousands of children on the dangers of HIV and AIDS.
In 1988, The Supremes were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, receiving the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, which Wilson personally accepted. Seven years later, the Hall launched an exhibit of the “Supremes” gowns for the museum’s opening in Cleveland, Ohio called The Supremes Reflections: The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection. Wilson had been personally archiving the gowns for years before the exhibit, and was the natural choice for curator. The Mary Wilson Supreme Legacy Collection, including the Butterfly dresses worn on their 1968 television special, is currently on tour, opening at the following museums: the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Michigan (Nov 4th, 2007) and The Theatre Museum in London (May 12th, 2008). The collection has appeared at the New York State Museum in Albany, The LBJ Museum in Austin, The Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York, and The Detroit Historical Museum to name a few.
With a successful solo career – and new CD out later this year – an equally successful literary career and her tireless humanitarian efforts, Mary’s future couldn’t look brighter. She is living proof that dreams really do come true!
For more on Mary Wilson, please visit www.marywilson.com.