© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

Remembering Mary Wilson, A Founding Member Of The Supremes

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Diana Ross learned that her fellow Supremes singer, Mary Wilson, had died, she tweeted her condolences to Wilson's family and wrote, I have so many wonderful memories of our time together. The Supremes will live on in our hearts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACK IN MY ARMS AGAIN")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Now you're back in my arms again, right by my side.

SHAPIRO: Mary Wilson died at her home in Henderson, Nev. She was 76. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: With their form-fitting gowns made of sequins or satin or mod outfits in bold colors with go-go boots, The Supremes were undeniably glamorous - and, oh, the hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Baby, baby, where did our love go?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SEE ABOUT ME")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Come see about me - see about you, baby. Come see about...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU KEEP ME HANGIN' ON")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Hey, set me free, why don't you, babe? Let me be, why don't you, babe?

BLAIR: Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson were teenagers in Detroit when they began their journey as one of Motown's star girl groups. In 2006, Mary Wilson told NPR they wanted to be big but couldn't have imagined the global success they would have.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARY WILSON: We did dare to dream at a time when it was almost an impossible dream for us to want to be stars. To say that we thought it would last, you know, some 50 years later, no, I don't think that we ever thought about that. But we knew we were good (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Stop in the name of love before you break my heart.

BLAIR: Mary Wilson was born in Greenville, Miss., and moved to Detroit at age 3 to live with relatives. She went to Northeastern High School, where there was a very good music teacher, according to Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas.

MARTHA REEVES: We had the same music teacher, Abraham Silver, who taught us how to sing along with Florence Ballard.

BLAIR: Up until 2019, Reeves and Mary Wilson toured together in a show called The Legendary Ladies of Motown. Reeves says, within the Motown family, Wilson was known for her generosity.

REEVES: We spread love. And Mary Wilson is one of the sweethearts, the most cherished sweetheart of our Motown story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HEAR A SYMPHONY")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) I hear a symphony. Play sweet and tenderly. Every time your lips meet mine now, baby, baby, baby. You bring much joy within.

BLAIR: Mary Wilson raised a family, wrote books, traveled overseas as a U.S. cultural ambassador and competed on "Dancing With The Stars." Last year, she led a campaign to get a postage stamp for her fellow Supreme, the late Florence Ballard. Wilson also fought to ban impostor groups from taking the names and livelihood away from the original performers, as she told NPR in 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WILSON: You know, for them to - in their twilight years to have to see their legacies, the history that they made being destroyed and just totally people just taking their names.

BLAIR: The late Mary Wilson protecting her fellow artists with the energy and passion of a Supreme.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.