Mary Wilson, Founding Member of Supremes, Dies at 76

Mary Wilson, singer, best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman and founding member of the Supremes has died.

Mary Wilson, a co-founder of the Supremes, has died. On Monday her death was confirmed by Jay Schwartz, her longtime publicist, she was 76. 

Wilson is most known for being a founding member of the Supremes, the iconic group that became renowned for their distinct Motown sound. 

Born in Greenville, Mississippi, Wilson grew up in the Brewster-Douglass projects in Detroit. Throughout her childhood, she was a singer. In 1959, Milton Jenkins, who was the manager of The Primes, a male group set out to create a female singing group. Betty McGlown first joined, she was followed by Florence Ballard, she invited Wilson and Diana Ross was the last to join. In order to garner attention from Barry Gordy, Motown’s founder, the ladies frequented the Hitsville USA recording studio. Eventually, they were signed by Gordy. They became a trio in 1962 and switched their group name officially to the Supremes.   

The Supremes went on to score 12 No.1 singles, five of them were consecutive and from 1964-1965. Those songs were “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again.” As a co-founder of the group, she changed the face of pop music while maintaining her status as a trendsetter. Their success happened despite social, racial, and gender barriers. 

L-R: Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Cindy Birdsong. Photo Credit: Motown Archives

During the Supremes reign, Wilson was a part of their critical acclaim and helped them garner a total of 16 top-10 pop singles and 19 top-10 R&B 45s (six of them are chart-toppers), per Variety. Years later in 1970 when Ross left the group to go solo, Wilson remained a key member as other singers claimed stake as lead vocalist.  

As the years progressed, Wilson went solo and would later release two individual albums and toured successfully. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the group in 1988. Over the course of her life, she also released four best-selling books, one was her 1986 autobiography Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.

The world-renowned performer was also a loyal advocate for social and economic challenges in the United States and throughout the globe. “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,” states a press release.  

“I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes,” said Berry Gordy in a statement released on Monday. Gordy added, “I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.”

Wilson is survived by her daughter, Turkessa; her sons Pedro Antonio Jr. and William; her sister, Kathryn; her brother, Roosevelt and 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Robyn Mowatt

Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind on Twitter at @robyn_mowatt.

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Robyn Mowatt

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