Mary Wilson, a Founding Member of The Supremes, Dies at 76

by Gina Williams

February 9, 2021

Mary Wilson, a founder and original member of The Supremes, has died. She was 76.

Monday, her publicist and longtime friend, Jay Schwartz, released a statement indicating that Wilson “passed away suddenly” in her home in Henderson, Nevada.

As a 15-year-old girl from the Detroit Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, Wilson, along with Florence Ballard and Diana Ross, formed one of the most successful Motown acts of the 1960s and the best-charting female group in U.S. history. 

“She was a trailblazer, a diva, and will be deeply missed,” Motown Records founder Berry Gordy said.

RELATED: Mary Wilson, Lamar Odom, Ray Lewis & More Sign Up For ‘Dancing With The Stars’ [WATCH]

Originally called The Primettes, the group changed their name to The Supremes after signing to Motown Records in 1961. By 1964, the group had become international superstars. 

The Supremes (Cindy Birdsong, Diana Ross, and Mary Wilson), wearing matching sequinned peach dresses with silver necklaces and earrings, during a live concert performance, circa 1965. (Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Wilson was a “trendsetter who broke down social, racial, and gender barriers,” Schwartz said in his statement.
The prototype for girl groups, The Supremes, was one of the world’s all-time, best-selling girl groups. During their 1960s reign, the group released a record-setting 12 number-one hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100. From Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, and Stop! In the Name of Love, the group kept the hits coming but would eventually face major changes.

In 1967, Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross & The Supremes. Original group members Ballard left the group that same year with Ross following in 1970. However, Wilson would continue in the group with new members until 1977.

She later found success, releasing her New York Times best-selling autobiography in 1986, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme. She followed with a second memoir, a best seller, Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together.

“I woke up to this news. My condolences to you Mary’s family,” Ross tweeted. “I am reminded that each day is a gift. I have so many wonderful memories of our time together. The Supremes will live on in our hearts.”

In 1988, Wilson was inducted along with Ross and Ballard into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The singer never slowed down on or off the stage. “Wilson used her fame and flair to promote a diversity of humanitarian efforts including ending hunger, raising HIV/AIDS awareness, and encouraging world peace,” the publicist said.

Wilson was also instrumental in passing the Music Modernization Act in 2018, seeking to correct copyright issues with new music on digital streaming platforms, which did not protect music recorded before February 15, 1972, the statement said.
In 2019, she showed off her dance moves when she signed up for Dancing With the Stars.

The Motown legend is survived by her daughter, son, sister, brother, and other family and friends.

 

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