Mary Wilson (singer)

Mary Wilson (singer)
Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson at Spaso House in Moscow on 2 February 2011
Background information
Born March 6, 1944 (1944-03-06) (age 67)
Greenville, Mississippi, US
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres R&B, pop, disco, dance-pop
Occupations Singer, author
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1959 - current
Labels Motown (1961-1980), Nightmare/Motorcity (1981-1991), CEO Records (1991-1992), H-D-H Records (2009 – present)
Associated acts The Supremes, Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Cindy Birdsong, Jean Terrell, Lynda Laurence, Scherrie Payne, Susaye Greene

Mary Wilson (born March 6, 1944) is an American singer, who gained fame as a founding member of the Motown female singing group The Supremes during the 1960s and 1970s. Wilson was the only singer to be a consistent member of the group in its eighteen-year tenure. Today Wilson remains a strong advocate for the group's legacy and regularly performs concerts of their music, but has gone on to become an acclaimed jazz and blues singer, humanitarian, and successful political advocate for artist's rights. She has published the autobiography Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme, and two follow-up books, Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together, and an updated combination of the two entitled Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith: My Life as a Supreme.



Early life

Mary Wilson was the first child born to Sam and Johnnie Mae Wilson, a domestic worker who later became a housewife, in Greenville, Mississippi. The Wilsons later had a son, Roosevelt, and a daughter, Catherine, who is known as "Cat". As a baby, Mary moved first to St. Louis and then to Chicago before settling with her aunt and uncle, Ivory ("I.V.") and John L. Pippin, in Detroit. At the age of six, she was returned to the custody of Johnnie Mae, who had spent time in Mississippi. This was a confusing time for Mary, as she had been led to believe that Ivory and John L. were her parents. By the age of twelve, Mary and her family had settled at Detroit's Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects.

The Supremes (1959–1977)

In 1958, Mary Wilson met Florence Ballard while both attended junior high school. They quickly became close friends with a mutual interest in music. When Milton Jenkins, manager of male vocal group The Primes, decided to form a female spin-off group called The Primettes, he recruited Ballard, who recruited Wilson. Wilson then recruited a new friend of hers, Diane Ross, and Jenkins added Betty McGlown to complete the lineup.

By 1961, The Primettes had signed to Motown Records, replaced McGlown with Barbara Martin, and changed their name to The Supremes; In 1962, a pregnant Martin quit the group, reducing them to a trio. The Supremes went two years without a Top 40 hit, finally scoring with "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" in 1963 which began a long streak of Holland–Dozier–Holland-penned Top 10 hits, including ten US #1 hits, beginning with "Where Did Our Love Go".

In 1967, after three years of phenomenal success, Motown chief Berry Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross & the Supremes and at Mary and Diana's request replaced Florence Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. Although hits were less frequent during this time period, Diana Ross and the Supremes enjoyed their two biggest-selling hits in 1968 ("Love Child") and 1969 ("Someday We'll Be Together"), respectively.

When Diana Ross left the group in 1970 for a solo career, singer Jean Terrell was brought in as her replacement, and the group was re-christened "The Supremes". The "New Supremes" – Wilson, Terrell, and Birdsong – continued their hit-making process from 1970 through 1972 with hits like "Up the Ladder to the Roof", "Stoned Love", "River Deep – Mountain High" (with the Four Tops), "Nathan Jones", and "Floy Joy". Wilson began sharing leads with Terrell on several of the singles, including "Touch", "Floy Joy", and "Automatically Sunshine".

In 1994, The Supremes were recognized with a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7060 Hollywood Blvd.

Cindy Birdsong temporarily left the group in April 1972 to start a family and was replaced by singer Lynda Laurence, formerly of Stevie Wonder's Wonderlove group. This collaboration did not last long. After the Stevie Wonder-produced "Bad Weather" failed to ignite much interest in 1973, both Terrell and Laurence departed from the group. Wilson enlisted Scherrie Payne, Freda Payne's younger sister, and welcomed back Cindy Birdsong to carry on the group. It took nearly two years for Motown to produce new recording contracts for the Supremes, during which time the group concentrated on live performances, and Wilson married Dominican businessman Pedro Ferrer.

Wilson took charge of the Supremes, assisting her husband in managing, and sharing lead vocal duties with Payne in the group. This lineup continued on until 1976, when Birdsong was replaced by Susaye Greene, also a former Wonderlove member. With Greene, the Supremes recorded two disco-flavored albums with some success, including the release of their final top forty hit "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking" which also ranked number 1 on the dance charts. By the start of 1977, Wilson had finally decided to leave The Supremes and start her solo singing career. Her "farewell" performance with the group in its last line-up occurred on Sunday, June 12 of that year at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London, England.

Solo artist

In 1979, Wilson became involved in a protracted legal battle with Motown over their management of the Supremes. After an out-of-court settlement, Motown signed Wilson to the label. In August 1979, Wilson's debut solo album entiltled Mary Wilson was released with material produced by Hal Davis. The album took Wilson's solo work further into a mixture of R&B and disco. The album's lead single, "Red Hot"/"Midnight Dancer", peaked at #95 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. An extended version of "Red Hot" made available as a 12-inch single earned the song a #85 spot on the disco charts in October 1979. In March 1980, Wilson released the album's second single, "Pick Up the Pieces"/"You're the Light That Guides My Way".

In mid-1980, Wilson had begun working on her second album for Motown with English record producer Gus Dudgeon, who had produced the tracks "Love Talk", "Save Me", "You Danced My Heart Around the Stars" and "Green River" for the record. However, Wilson was later released from her contract with Motown. Also in the mid-1980s, Wilson began to concentrate on musical theater, starring in various productions throughout a 20-year period, including "Beehive", "Dancing in the Streets", "Leader of the Pack", "Mother Hubbard, Mother Hubbard", "Grandma Sylvia's Funeral", "Sister Idella's Soul Shack" "Sophisticated Ladies", "The Vagina Monologues" and "Supreme Soul". In 1981, Wilson signed with Nightmare Records,a label that aimed to record new material with former Motown artists. In 1984, after a successful reunion of The Temptations, Wilson was approached by Motown to reform the Supremes with Scherrie Payne and Cindy Birdsong, but after careful consideration and advice from Berry Gordy Jr., Wilson declined. In 1986, Wilson released her first heavily publicized autobiography, "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme" concentrating on the sixties era of the original Supremes lineup. The book was a huge success and remains one of the best-selling rock and roll biographies of all-time. In 1987, Wilson released the single "Don't Get Mad, Get Even" on Nightmare Records. Wilson racked up a long list of television appearances during this period, on talk shows and sitcom guest spots, including 227 on the episode "See You in Court" which premiered on November 21, 1987. In 1988 Wilson appeared in Dionne Warwick's "That's What Friends Are For AIDS Concert" which aired nationwide. She performed "A Song for You", in a medley with "How Lucky Can You Get?". Wilson also became a regular performer sharing billing with top comedians such as Jay Leno and Joan Rivers, playing engagements at resorts and casinos.

In 1987, Wilson recorded the songs, "Sleeping in Separate Rooms", "Stronger in a Broken Part" and "The One I Love" for Atlantic Records. Wilson had expected to have a record deal with the label, but the deal was cancelled and the songs remain unreleased.

In 1989, Nightmare Records became Motorcity Records. Although Wilson never recorded a full album for the label, she recorded a cover version of "Oooh Child". In 1990, she released a follow-up best-selling book called "Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together", which followed the group and her life through the seventies. Her concert work also increased in the US, although she had more legal troubles with Motown over ownership of the name "Supremes" which she used to identify herself with for tour work. Wilson initaited a court case against Kaaren Ragland, who served as a back-up singer for Wilson for several years, to prevent Ragland from calling a group she formed "The Sounds of the Supremes," but the court found in Ragland's favor.".[1] In 1991, Wilson left Motorcity, a year before it went out of business. She then signed with the independent record label, CEO Records, and began recording her second solo album. In 1992, Wilson released a heavily publicized CD Walk the Line for CEO Records. It featured her cover of the Five Stairsteps song,"Ooh Child", which was originally released under Nightmare Records. The album also featured a cover of the Jennifer Holliday classic, I Am Changing. The album's lead single,"One Night With You", was followed by "Walk the Line", which was the title track to the album. CEO Records filed for bankruptcy protection the day after releasing this work, causing the album to fall out of place on the charts. The relatively few copies made available quickly sold out. Wilson claimed she had no knowledge of the label's financial problems and was deceived into signing with them for the release. Despite this setback, Wilson continued a successful international concert career.

In 1995, Wilson released the song, "U" by the Contract Recording Company and in 1996, Wilson's song, "Turn Around", was released on Da Bridge Records, although Wilson never had a full recording contract with either of the labels.

In 2000, an updated version of Wilson's two autobiographies was released as a single combined book.[2] It was released under the title,"Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith: My Life as a Supreme".Also in 2000, Wilson released a CD entitled,I Am Changing,which was released on Duryea Entertainment.

Later years

In late 1999, Diana Ross arranged a Supremes reunion tour scheduled to begin in the summer of 2000. Both Ross and Wilson publicly acknowledged that Wilson was not contacted about the tour until late December 1999. Offered two million dollars and no artistic control, Wilson counter-offered to join the tour for five million dollars, eventually settling for a figure of four million. Reports as to why vary between the two singers, but Ross decided to do the tour with two singers who had joined The Supremes after Ross had left the group, Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne. Intense media scrutiny of the disagreement between Wilson and Ross and the tour itself ensued, and many fans of the original Supremes felt that the tour could not rightly be described as a "reunion". The Return to Love Tour was canceled after fulfilling less than half of its scheduled dates.

In 2001, Wilson starred in the national tour of the 1986 Best Musical Tony Award winner Leader of The Pack — The Ellie Greenwich Story. In 2002, she was featured in a documentary film on American soul music, Only the Strong Survive, and was appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell as a Culture-Connect Ambassador for the U.S. State Department, appearing at international events arranged by that agency. Motown's 45th anniversary show in 2003 featured Wilson and Birdsong with Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child subbing for Ross, who chose not to appear. In 2006, Wilson released a DVD, Mary Wilson Live at the Sands, which features many of the Supremes hits and much of her newer material. The DVD was distributed by Universal Music Group, the now-parent company of Motown Records. Also in 2006, Wilson underwent angioplasty surgery after complaining of chest pains; she recovered quickly and resumed her engagements.

The 2007 release of the film Dreamgirls, a work loosely based on the real-life Supremes, found Wilson sharing several appearances with the film's stars. In December 2007, Wilson released a live CD of her popular jazz and standards act called Up Close: Live from San Francisco. In April 2008, the Australian singing group Human Nature released a CD with Wilson guest-starring in a rendition of "River Deep – Mountain High" with the group, a cover of the 1970 hit by the post-Ross Supremes and the Four Tops.

In June 2010, Wilson released Mary Wilson; Up Close: Live from San Fransicso a limited edition live DVD of her "Up Close" show. Wilson has also stated in several interviews she will release a new CD of original material written specifically for her by the Holland Bros. of Holland–Dozier–Holland, the famed song writers who penned the Supremes long list of hits. It was announced by the Las Vegas Sun newspaper that she had signed with H-D-H Records to release a new album.A new song entitled,"Life's Been Good To Me",was released on iTunes in the UK and on the website Amazon UK.

Other work

In recent years, Wilson has made headlines for proposing a bill to ban impostor groups from performing under the names of 1950s and 1960s rock groups, including Motown groups such as The Marvelettes and The Supremes. The bill has now passed in 27 states. Wilson has also been touring and lecturing across the U.S., speaking to various groups nationwide. Her lecture series, “Dare to Dream”, focuses on reaching goals and triumph over adversity. Wilson's charity work includes the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the American Cancer Society, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, the Easter Seals Foundation, UNICEF, The NAACP, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the All-Star Network, and Figure Skaters of Harlem, a youth organization devoted to helping children towards entering the Olympics. Most recently, Wilson became the Mine Action spokesperson for the Humpty Dumpty Institute,[3] a NYC-based non-profit organization forging innovative[citation needed] public-private partnerships designed to help solve specific international problems.

In April 2008, Wilson made a special appearance on 20/20 to participate in a social experiment involving pedestrians reacting to a young woman (Ambre Anderson) singing "Stop! In the Name of Love" with intentional amateurishness. Wilson approached the woman and gave her constructive criticism towards her style in contrast to the pedestrians whose reactions were positive yet dishonest. On March 5, 2009, she made a special appearance on The Paul O'Grady Show which ended in a special performance with her, Paul O'Grady and Graham Norton.

Wilson has also been involved with a touring exhibition of the Supremes' former stage wear, which has been on exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, USA, and on May 12, 2008 commenced its European tour, starting at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Over 50 sets of gowns are shown in rotation, starting with early informal wear from the early 1960s, and including famous gowns worn on television specials and nightclub appearances by the group in the 1960s and 1970s.[4]

Lead vocals with The Supremes

Wilson recorded an appreciable number of lead/co-lead vocals for the group, including the #1 dance chart hit "He's My Man" and the top 40 pop hits "Floy Joy" and "Automatically Sunshine". For a complete list of singles and albums, see The Supremes discography.

  • As The Primettes
    • "Pretty Baby" – b-side to "Tears of Sorrow"
  • as The Supremes
    • "(He's) Seventeen" – from the group's debut album Meet The Supremes – Mary has a brief solo on the song, saying "Two" during the spoken interlude that's just before the last verse
    • "Baby Don't Go" – also from the group's debut album Meet The Supremes
    • "A Breathtaking Guy" – from the 1964 album, Where Did Our Love Go – all group members have a lead line on the song’s chorus
    • "Long Gone Lover" – also from Where Did Our Love Go – has the lead on the intro (and repeats her part in the break), with Florence Ballard on lead on the outro and Diana Ross leading the rest of the song
    • "Baby Love" – from Where Did Our Love Go – Diana leads but Flo & Mary each has brief solos (ad-libs) on the released (second) version of the song. Mary sings "yeah, yeah" just before the last verse.
    • "How Do You Do It" – from the 1964 album, A Bit of Liverpool – all three members of the group sing the song's lead vocal in unison.
    • "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" – also from A Bit of Liverpool. – Mary sings "the harmony co-lead vocal" with Diana Ross.
    • "It Makes No Difference Now" – from the group's 1965 album The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop – this was the first released track to feature all group members on lead vocals on a song verse
    • "Sunset" – also from The Supremes Sing Country, Western and Pop, as a duet with Diana Ross
    • "Come and Get These Memories" – a remake of the Martha and the Vandellas hit, featured on the group's 1966 hit album The Supremes A' Go-Go, alternate mix included on "Lost & Found – Let the Music Play: Supreme Rarities 1960–1969".
    • "Falling In Love With Love" – from the group's tribute album The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart, a duet with Diana Ross; also featured on the live album Farewell
  • as Diana Ross and The Supremes
    • "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" – from the live album Farewell; first featured as a duet with Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks on the album Together
  • as The Supremes (1970s)
    • "Bridge Over Troubled Water" – from New Ways but Love Stays. Shared Vocal with Jean Terrell.
    • "Touch" – the title track from Touch. A soulful duet with established lead singer Jean Terrell, this marked the first time that Mary had taken a lead on a single.
    • Nathan Jones" – also from Touch. All three members of the group (Jean, Mary, and Cindy Birdsong) sing the song's lead vocal in unison.
    • "A Heart Like Mine" – from the Smokey Robinson produced album Floy Joy
    • "Floy Joy" – another duet with Jean Terrell from the album with the same name.
    • "Automatically Sunshine" – second single from the Floy Joy album and third duet single with Jean Terrell.
    • "I Keep It Hid" – album track from the critically acclaimed album The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb.
    • "He's My Man" – from the 1975 album The Supremes, co-lead vocals with Scherrie Payne
    • "Early Morning Love" – from the 1975 album The Supremes
    • "Where Is It I Belong?" – from the 1975 album The Supremes
    • "This Is Why I Believe In You" – from the 1975 album The Supremes, co-lead vocals with Scherrie Payne
    • "You Turn Me Around" – from the 1975 album The Supremes
    • "Don't Let My Teardrops Bother You" – from the 1976 album High Energy
    • "Till the Boat Sails Away" – from the 1976 album High Energy
    • "I Don't Want To Lose You" – from the 1976 album High Energy
    • "You're What's Missing In My Life" – from the 1976 album High Energy, duet with Scherrie Payne
    • "We Should be Closer Together" – from the group's final album Mary, Scherrie & Susaye
    • "You Are The Heart Of Me" – also from the group's final album Mary, Scherrie & Susaye
  • Tracks released after the group disbanded
    • "After All" – recorded in 1961 and later included on the 2000 The Supremes box set. This is the only released song to feature Barbara Martin. It also features Florence and Diana.
    • " The Tears" – recorded in 1961 during the sessions for Meet The Supremes – also released on Never-Before-Released-Masters From Today's Brightest Stars-The 1960s
    • "Not Fade Away" – a group lead with harmonies throughout, recorded in 1964 during sessions for A Bit of Liverpool, released on The Supremes Lost & Found
    • "Our Day Will Come" – recorded in 1965 for the unreleased There's A Place For Us album. It was released on The Never-Before-Released Masters in 1987.
    • "Fancy Passes" – also recorded in 1965 for the unreleased There's A Place For Us album. Diana leads but Flo & Mary each are featured on some spoken lines (and a few brief solos) in this original number. It was released on The Never-Before-Released Masters.
    • "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" – recorded in 1967 for the unreleased Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing Disney Classics album. The song was released on The Never-Before-Released Masters CD in 1987.
    • "Got to Get You Into My Life" – released on Joined Together: The Complete Studio Duets – Shared lead vocal with Diana Ross, with The Temptations singing background.
    • "Amen"- out-take from 1968's Diana Ross & the Supremes Join The Temptations – released on Joined Together: The Complete Studio Duets – all group members share leads with Temptations members Eddie Kendricks, Dennis Edwards, and Paul Williams.
    • "Still Water (Love)" – taken from recording sessions for the proposed album Promises Kept. released on the compilation, This Is the Story: The 70s Albums, Vol. 1 (1970-1973 – The Jean Terrell Years).
    • "Can We Love Again" – out-take from the 1975 album The Supremes, released on The 70s Anthology.
  • Unreleased tracks
    • "Boogie Man" – out-take from the 1975 album The Supremes

Solo discography

Studio albums

  • 1979: Mary Wilson
  • 1992: Walk the Line
  • 2000: I Am Changing
  • 2011: Life's Been Good to Me (Release date pending)

Live album

  • 2007: Up Close: Live from San Francisco


Album guest appearances

  • with Neil Sedaka on Come See About Me (one song) – "Come See About Me"
  • with Paul Jabara on De La Noche Sisters (one song) – "This Girl's Back"
  • on the album Sing For The Cure (one song) – "Come to Me Mother"
  • with the Four Tops on From the Heart (2006) (one song) – "River Deep – Mountain High"
  • with Human Nature on Get Ready (2007) (two songs) – "River Deep – Mountain High" and "It Takes Two"


Motown releases
  • 1979: "Red Hot" / "Midnight Dancer"
  • 1980: "Pick Up the Pieces" / "You're the Light That Guides My Way" (UK only)
Nightmare/Motorcity releases
  • 1987:"Don't Get Mad, Get Even" – Nightmare Records
  • 1989:"Oooh Child" – Nightmare Records
CEO releases
  • 1992: "One Night With You"
  • 1992: "Walk the Line"
Other releases
  • 1995: "U" – Contract Recording Company
  • 1996: "Turn Around" – Da Bridge Records
  • 2000: "It's Time to Move On"
  • 2011: "Life's Been Good to Me"
  • 1980: Gus Dudgeon produced master tracks for Motown – "Love Talk", "Save Me", "You Danced My Heart Around the Stars", "Green River"
  • 1986: "My Lovelife is a Disaster" (unreleased demo)
  • "Sleeping in Separate Rooms" (Atlantic c.1987)
  • "Stronger in a Broken Part" (Atlantic c.1987)
  • "The One I Love" (Atlantic c.1987)
  • "Can We Talk About It"
  • "Show Me"
  • "Love Child" (out-take from Walk the Line album)


  • Wilson, Mary with Patricia Romanowski and Ahrgus Juilliard (1986). Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Wilson, Mary and Romanowski, Patricia (1990). Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-016290-2
  • Wilson, Mary (1999). Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith: My Life as a Supreme. New York: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 0-8154-1000-X.

DVD appearances

  • T.A.M.I. Show – performer, with the Supremes (1964)
  • Beach Ball – performer, with the Supremes (1965)
  • Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever – performer, with the Supremes (1983)
  • Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound – herself (1994)
  • Jackie's Back (movie) – Vesta Crotchley (2002)
  • Rhythm, Love and Soul – herself (2003)
  • Tiger Town (movie) – National Anthem singer (2004)
  • Only the Strong Survive – performer (2004)
  • From the Heart: The Four Tops – 50th Anniversary Concert – performer (2005)
  • Mary Wilson Live at the Sands – herself (2006)
  • Greatest Hits: Live in Amsterdam – performer, with the Supremes (2006)
  • Reflections: The Definitive Performances (1964–1969) – singer (2006)
  • Mary Wilson; Up Close: Live from San Francisco (2010)

Other notable appearances

  • Brenda Russell: "Walkin' in New York" – cameo in music video
  • Motown 40: The Music is Forever – herself (1998)
  • Motown 45 – performer (2004)
  • Motown: The Early Years: PBS Special (2005)
  • My Music: Motown Memories: PBS Special – hostess (2009)
  • Unsung: Florence Ballard – interviewee (2009)


  1. ^ Los Angeles Times, 9/2/1997
  2. ^ Wilson, Mary (1999). Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith, Updated Edition: My Life as a Supreme. New York: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 0-8154-1000-X.
  3. ^ "The Humpty Dumpty Institute". Retrieved April 11, 2011. 
  4. ^ "The Story of The Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection — Victoria and Albert Museum". October 19, 2008. Retrieved April 11, 2011. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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