Mary Wilson is a living legend. It was her dream of musical stardom as a Detroit teenager that led Mary Wilson to join her friends, Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Betty McGlown in forming a singing group, The Primettes. The Primettes were the sister group to a male trio, The Primes. The Primes later became The Temptations, and The Primettes (with Barbara Martin replacing Betty) became THE SUPREMES - the most successful female vocal in the world. Between 1964 and 1969, The Supremes charted an incredible string of TWELVE NUMBER ONE HITS, including “Where Did Our Love Go?” (1964); “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” (1965); “You Can’t Hurry Love,” (1966); and “Someday We’ll Be Together,” (1969). In all, The Supremes produced an INCREDIBLE 33 TOP FORTY HITS by the time they disbanded in 1977. They are the only American group to have FIVE CONSECUTIVE NUMBER ONE HITS - all between 1964 and ’65! The group scored ANOTHER FOUR CONSECUTIVE NUMBER ONE HITS between mid-1966 and 1967. No other group before or after The Supremes has accomplished this feat. Recently, it was announced that while the “girl group” T.L.C. has sold 22 million records and had four Number Ones, The Supremes are still the all-time biggest female group.
Representing the group in 1988, Mary Wilson accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award for The Supremes at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Supremes received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994, and were also inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. Earlier this year, The Supremes were honored by The Rhythm & Blues Foundation, receiving its prestigeous Pioneer Award. The Supremes also received the Image Award from the NAACP in 1972.As the only original Supreme carrying on the group’s legacy to this day, Mary Wilson is embarking on her 44th anniversary in the music business.
THE END OF AN ERA
By 1970, The Supremes had undergone major transitions, with Florence leaving the group in 1967, being replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Diana Ross left The Supremes to start a solo career in 1970, being replaced by Jean Terrell. Mary, Jean and Cindy continued The Supremes’ hitmaking ways, with a string of Top Twenty, million-selling records, including “UpThe Ladder To The Roof,” “Stoned Love,” “Nathan Jones,” “Floy Joy,” and with The Four Tops, “River Deep, Mountain High.” The only member who performed with The Supremes from beginning to end was Mary Wilson. Carrying on the dream that she, Flo and Diana had when they started, Mary kept singing--teaching new members, including Lynda Laurence (1972), Scherrie Payne (1974) and the last member, Susaye Greene (1976), the Supremes’ ways.
In 1977, Mary officially disbanded The Supremes, and set out on her own as a solo artist. Her first solo album, Mary Wilson, yielded the dance classic, “Red Hot.” Simultaneously, Mary broadened her horizons in the acting world, starring in the musical, “Beehive,” which toured Canada and the United States for over a year. In addition, she played roles in the Disney movie, “Tiger Town,” the TV sitcom “227,” and the documentary “Brown Sugar,” and “Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound,” among others. More recently, she had a starring role in the Lifetime original movie, “Jackie’s Back.” Earlier this year, Mary co-hosted the PBS documentary concert special, “American Soundtrack: Rhythm, Love & Soul,” with Aretha Franklinand Lou Rawls. She can currently be seen in the Miramax Films documentary, “Only The Strong Survive.”
Mary also became a New York Times best-selling author in 1986, when she released her autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme. The book sold more than 500,000 hardcover and paperback copies, received rave reviews, and continues to be the most successful Motown autobiography to date. Dreamgirl recounted the fairy tale history of Mary’s life as a Supreme, as well as the struggles she faced in order to achieve her dreams.
The overwhelming response to her first book prompted Mary to write its 1990 sequel, Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together, in which Mary recalled her struggles to keep The Supremes together. She candidly wrote about her personal life, including raising her family, the tragic death of Florence Ballard, the explosive reunion with Diana Ross on Motown’s 25th Anniversary television special in 1983, and her abusive marriage. Mary’s third literary project, released in January, 2000, was entitled, Dreamgirl and Supreme Faith: My Life As A Supreme, an amalgamation of her first two books, with an updated chapter added. She is currently working on a coffee table book about The Supremes, as well as a cookbook. She is also working on what she terms her ultimate book on her philosophy of life. “But at age 58,” she says, “I haven’t lived enough yet!”
In 1992, Mary went back into the recording studio to record her first album in thirteen years, Walk The Line, debuting the title track on The Arsenio Hall Show. A second single from the album, One Night With You, reached the Top Thirty in several local markets. Much to her surprise, Mary found out that the independent label had folded just days after the album was released, halting distribution. Mary is currently putting the finishing touches on a new, full-length CD, which she says will “reflect the nuances and shades of my life experiences.” The CD is being produced by Richard Davis for the Holland Brothers Group.
Following her own motto that, “dreams do come true,” Mary began telling her story on the lecture circuit, speaking in front of groups all over the world. Because of her experiences, Mary is able to touch individuals with her motivational speeches, which are tailored to specific groups. Mary also began participating in various charities, donating her time, talent and services to organizations including: The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, The American Cancer Society, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (for which she served as spokesperson in 1996), St. Jude’s Research Hospital, The Easter Seals Foundation, UNICEF, The NAACP, The People with AIDS Coalition of Tuscon, Q Circuit, and The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Mary has served as national spokesperson for Pfizer’s “Value Your Heart” campaign in 2001, traveling around the country to educate people about the risk factors associated with high blood pressure and prevention techniques. Currently, Mary serves as the National Spokesperson for Universal Sisters, a division of National Speaking of Women’s Health. Mary also serves as a vice president of F.A.M.E. (Friends Against Musical Exploitation of Artists), and has testified before legislatures in Massachusetts, California and Washington, DC, about the need for legislation to protect the identities and rights of legendary artists. All of this activity is nestled in-between 100 to 150 concerts a year!
Tragedy struck Mary’s family in 1994, when she lost her youngest child, 14-year old Rafi, in a car accident that nearly claimed Mary’s life, too. “Sometimes your best lessons stem from those that hurt the worst,” says Mary. “The death of my baby prompted me to take a stronger look at my life. In many ways, this tragedy kick-started my life all over again.” Ironically, it was only a few weeks after Rafi’s funeral that The Supremes were celebrated once again, when they received a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Embracing new challenges, Mary moved to New York to make a fresh start. She enrolled in New York University, where she earned her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts in May, 2001, fulfilling her mother’s dream that one of her children would graduate from college. In 1995, Mary found herself back in the recording studio to record a new single with a new sound. Entitled, “U,” the single became an R&B hit on the European charts. She released the single “Turn Around,” which was also a hit in Europe, in 1996.
Since then, Mary has maintained a hectic, but fulfilling schedule, touring the world with her own band, performing with major symphony orchestras across the country, fusing her pop melodies with symphonic compositions. Mary has also worked as a radio disc jockey, on New York’s classic R&B station, WWRL. In addition, Mary is the only Supreme to venture into theater, starring in three Off-Broadway plays-“Grandma Sylvia’s Funeral,” “Mother Hubbard,” and “Idella’s Soul Shack.” She has also starred in the musicals, “Supremesoul,” in Sweden, and “Dancing In The Streets,” in the U.K. In April, 2001, Mary starred in “Leader Of The Pack,” at Boston’s Shubert Theater. In 2002, Mary produced and starred in the national touring company of “Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies.” In March, 2003, Mary starred in “The Vagina Monologues,” at the Detroit Opera House.
Mary Wilson is forever unfolding, both as a person and as a professional. “I have a lot yet to do with my life as an entertainer,” says Mary. “I enjoy making myself and others happy by performing. My life has been a wonderful experience of incredible moments encompassing every nuance of living. The joys and sometimes sadness are all part of the package. I am a better, more fulfilled person because of those moments. They all connect to make up Mary Wilson. I am forever “Daring to Dream.”