Supremely sad: Mary Wilson, RIP

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Mary WilsonThe story goes that elementary school girls Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard entered a talent contest. By 1959, they became part of a group called the Primettes, along with a couple of other girls from the Detroit projects, Diane Ross and Betty McGlown. McGlown was replaced by Barbara Martin.

The group changed its name from the Primettes to the Supremes. Martin left, and they went forward as a trio. They were immediately…not very successful. A half dozen songs, none of which cracked the pop Top 40. They were the “no-hit Supremes.”

The group was offered a song the Marvelettes didn’t want, Where Did Our Love Go, written by Holland-Dozier-Holland. They were resistant to recording someone else’s rejects. It went to #1, as did several more tracks. They were the second most successful group on the singles charts in the 1960s.

And the Supremes were the epitome of style with appearances on the Ed Sullivan a dozen times, plus several other music shows. They were not just singers but role models, with their hair, makeup and outfits fastidiously tended to.

But Diana, who had changed her name at the beginning of their successful run, was now getting virtually all of the leads. Mary and Flo were doing a lot of background vocals, which got a bit boring.

By 1967, the billing changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes, to Flo’s dismay. Very long story short, Florence was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. But it was clear that Diana was considered the singular star.

Mary and Cindy didn’t even appear on seven later singles including I’m Livin’ in Shame, The Composer, and Someday We’ll Be Together, though, of course, they appeared on the live version of the latter.


Jean Terrell took Diana’s slot, but Mary got more chances to sing lead. And she kept the “new” Supremes together, with a rotating cast of members, until 1977.

After a series of legal wranglings, Mary Wilson became the keeper of the Supremes’ flame, writing four books with the word “Supreme” in the title. The one in 2019 was Supreme Glamour.

In 2003, she was “named a US cultural ambassador by the State Department, touring the world and talking to young people about the dangers of HIV and AIDS…

“The family asked that friends and fans support the United Negro College Fund or the Humpty Dumpty Institute. The latter group helps in landmine clearance projects around the world. Wilson… was a spokesperson for the group.”

Some songs

Mary Wilson sang or shared the lead on these, and a few others:

1962: Baby Don’t Go (from Meet The Supremes)
1965: It Makes No Difference Now (From The Supremes Sing Country, Western, and Pop)
1966: Come and Get These Memories  (from The Supremes A’ Go-Go)
1967 Falling in Love with Love (from The Supremes Sing Rodgers and Hart)
1969: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (from Together -Diana Ross and the Supremes, and The Temptations)
1972: A Heart Like Mine  (from Floy Joy)
1972: I Keep It Hid  (from The Supremes, Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb)
1975: Early Morning Love (from The Supremes)
1975: You Turn Me Around (from The Supremes)
1976: Til The Boat Sails Away (from High Energy)

She was a March Pisces like I am, so I had a certain particular affection for her. Here’s my post from Mary’s 70th birthday in 2014, with links to more familiar Supremes fare.

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