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Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson was a founding member and the mainstay of the Supremes, one of the most successful and influential vocal groups of all time. Following the group's split in the late '70s, the singer -- a paragon of style and finesse -- recorded occasionally as a solo artist, beginning with the Motown album Mary Wilson (1979). After she became a best-selling author with her first book, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, and was inducted with the Supremes into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Wilson released one more album of original material, Walk the Line (1992), as well an assortment of singles, all for independent labels. She remained a tireless performer, author, activist, lecturer, and cultural ambassador until her death in 2021. Born in Greenville, Mississippi, Mary Wilson also lived with her family in St. Louis and Chicago until the age of three, when was sent to stay with her aunt and uncle in Southwest Detroit. At the age of 12, by which point her mother had rejoined her, Wilson moved to the city's Brewster-Douglass housing project, where she met Florence Ballard. Through Ballard, Wilson joined the Primettes, who released a single in 1960 before they signed to Motown and changed their name to the Supremes. The group achieved flight in 1964, the year they started a streak of five number one pop singles consisting of "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "Back in My Arms Again." In addition to a stack of hit albums, the group topped the pop chart seven more times before Diana Ross left in 1970 for a solo career. Wilson continued to be the linchpin of the Supremes and saw the group through numerous lineup changes. While they weren't as successful during the '70s as they were the previous decade, the Supremes' post-Ross output -- highlighted by eight additional Top 40 hits, from "Up the Ladder to the Roof" through "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do the Walking" -- has a fervent following. Two years after the Supremes' farewell concert in 1977, Wilson started a solo career with the Mary Wilson album. Produced by longtime Supremes collaborator Hal Davis and released on Motown, the LP featured a charting single with the midtempo disco cut "Red Hot," and peaked at number 73 on Billboard's Top Black Albums chart. In 1983, Wilson briefly reunited with Supremes partners Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong (who had replaced Florence Ballard) to perform "Someday We'll Be Together," the group's last chart-topper, for the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. Three years later, Wilson became a published author with Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, a New York Times Best Seller. (The title referenced Dreamgirls, the Broadway musical inspired in part by Wilson's group.) Wilson would publish three more books, namely Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together; a combined and updated edition of her first two books; and Supreme Glamour. Although Wilson was active primarily as a performer and went on to hold a popular Las Vegas residency, she made a second album, Walk the Line, released in 1992, and recorded a handful of singles into the latter half of the 2010s. As an activist, among many other endeavors, Wilson lobbied for the Truth in Music Advertising Act and the Music Modernization Act. In 2019, the year her last book was published, she competed on Dancing with the Stars. At the time of her death from heart disease on February 8, 2021, Wilson was working on an expanded reissue of her self-titled album. It was released digitally two months later with material from a 1980 session and a new track, the message song "Why Can't We All Get Along." Those solo recordings, along with a selection of well-known, deep and previously unreleased Supremes songs, were compiled later in the year as the two-disc Motown Anthology.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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