Mary Wilson counted as a friend to the Black Press of America and a neighbor to the world with a radiance that seemed inextinguishable. But at 76, the flame of the legendary Supreme has finally gone out.
Wilson died suddenly late Monday, Feb. 8 at her home just outside of Las Vegas.
“I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes,” Motown founder Berry Gordy wrote in a statement emailed to NNPA Newswire shortly after 2 a.m. Tuesday. “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown.’ Mary, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s.”
“After an unprecedented string of number one hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others.”
“I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes over the years. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.”
In a 2020 interview on the Black Press of America’s “Fiyah!” livestream program, Wilson talked about her life and career and her long pursuit of having Ballard memorialized with a U.S. Postal Service stamp.
“People forget that Florence Ballard not only gave us our name but she formed the group,” Wilson revealed on “Fiyah!”
“It was really Flo who formed us and I want people to know that. I am putting together a program to get Florence Ballard a U.S. stamp, hopefully, so I want people to send their request and say something about Florence. All those hits were Florence, so when you’re listening to [The Supremes], it’s about Flo. So, I want people who listen to those songs that bring back memories; think about Flo.”
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 popular 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.
The Supremes: How it All Began
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, but they also helped pave the way for Black artists’ mainstream success across all genres.
The trio achieved an unprecedented 12 No.1 hits – five of them occurring consecutively from 1964 to 1965. The songs include: “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,” in which The Supremes ranked at No. 16 and remain the No. 1 female recording group of all time.
Jan. 21, 2021, marked the 60th anniversary of the day The Supremes signed with Motown in 1961. This year, Mary kicked off the historic celebration.
“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,” Wilson’s longtime publicist and friend, Jay Schwartz, said.
“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 bandmate and original Supreme Florence Ballard who passed away in 1976,” Schwartz said.
In 2019, Wilson stretched her dancing muscles when she joined the cast of the 28th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” Schwartz recalled.
He noted that in 2019 she also published her fourth book, “Supreme Glamour.”
“The 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,” Schwartz wrote in an email.
He provided the following extensive recent bio of Wilson:
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 always demonstrated to all her fans, Wilson gladly met and personally thanked every attendee that night for their support throughout her career.
Wilson’s influence reached beyond music.
In 2018, Wilson’s longtime fight in the passage of the Music Modernization Act came to fruition when the U.S. Congress signed the act into law on Oct. 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 Feb. 15, 1972.
Her tireless advocacy for this legislation included trips to Washington, D.C. to personally meet with members of Congress 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 No. 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 remained essential to her.
“I think that The Supremes had a lot to do with the awakening of the world in terms of what blackness was,” Wilson said in her 2020 NNPA interview. “The whole world was watching Black people in a way they’d never seen.”