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Mary Wilson

Background information
Born March 6, 1944 (1944-03-06) (age 66)
Greenville, Mississippi, U.S.
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres R&B, pop, disco, dance-pop
Occupations singer, author
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1959 - current
Labels Lu Pine, Motown, Motorcity, Nightmare Records, CEO Records
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 hit-making 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 a jazz and blues singer, humanitarian, and successful political advocate for artist's rights. She has published the autobiographies Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme, Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together, and a 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, she 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, Mary 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. 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 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 and 1969, 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".

Cindy Birdsong 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.

The solo years

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 released an album entiltled Mary Wilson but the project sold poorly and didn't reach the Billboard 200 album chart. The following year Motown released Wilson from her contract. Concentrating on work in Europe, Wilson found greater success. In 1984, after a successful reunion of The Temptations, she was approached by Motown to reform the Supremes with Scherrie Payne and Cindy Birdsong. 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 line up. The book was a huge success and remains one of the best-selling books ever released by a singer. 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. In 2000, an updated version was released which combined both prior autobiographies.[1]

By 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".

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.".[2]

Wilson racked up a long list of television appearances during this period, on talk shows and sitcom guest spots. In 1988 the "former Supreme" 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?". She recorded a few singles in the 1980s for Nightmare Records and England-based Motorcity Records which had signed several other former Motown acts, including the FLOS. None of the Motorcity Records releases did well in the US and the label eventually folded. Wilson, however, became a regular performer sharing billing with top comedians such as Jay Leno and Joan Rivers, playing engagements at resorts and casinos. In 1992 Wilson released a heavily publicized CD Walk the Line for CEO Records. The label filed for bankruptcy protection the day after releasing this work. 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 she released "U", which ranked on several European charts.

Later years

In September 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 2 million dollars and no artistic control, Wilson counter-offered to join the tour for 5 million dollars, eventually settling for a figure of 4 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 tour was cancelled 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 July 2006, Wilson under-went 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. Wilson has also recently 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. In April 2008, the popular 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.

Wilson announced she will release a new CD in 2009 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 has been announced by the Las Vegas Sun Newspaper that she has signed with H-D-H Records to release this work, expected to be available by year's end.

Other work

In recent years, Wilson has made headlines for proposing a bill to ban impostor groups to perform under the name 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 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.

Mary 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]

Personal life

During the mid-1960s, Wilson dated Four Tops member Abdul "Duke" Fakir. Mary has also been romantically linked to Tom Jones, Steve McQueen and Flip Wilson, among other celebrities.

During the late 1960s, Wilson adopted her cousin's son, Willie, and raised him as her own son. On May 11, 1974, Wilson married Pedro Ferrer and they subsequently had three children: Turkessa (born 1975), Pedro (born 1977) and Raphael (born 1979). In 1981, Wilson divorced Ferrer, whom she describes in Supreme Faith as being habitually abusive. On January 29, 1994, tragedy struck Wilson when she fell asleep at the wheel of her Jeep Cherokee (XJ), which hit the central barrier of a highway in California. As a result of the accident, Wilson suffered serious injuries, and her son Raphael died.

As of 2010, Wilson, who now resides in Las Vegas, is currently single and has three living children (son Pedro Jr., daughter Turkessa, and her adopted nephew, Willie). She also has seven grandchildren.

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
  • 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 The 70s Anthology.
  • Unreleased tracks
    • "Boogie Man" - out-take from the 1975 album The Supremes

Solo discography


Motown releases
CEO Records release
Mary Wilson

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 release
  • 1979: "Red Hot" / "Midnight Dancer"
  • 1980: "Pick Up the Pieces" / "You're the Light That Guides My Way" (UK only)
CEO releases
  • 1992: "One Night With You"
  • 1992: "Walk the Line"
Other releases
  • 1987:"Don't Get Mad, Get Even" - Nightmare Records
  • 1989:"Oooh Child" - Nightmare Records
  • 1995: "U" - Contract Recording Company
  • 1996: "Turn Around" - Da Bridge Records
  • 2000: "It's Time to Move On"
  • 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

  • Mary Wilson Live at the Sands
  • Tiger Town (movie) - National Anthem singer
  • Jackie's Back (movie) - Vesta Crotchley
  • The Supremes: Reflections: The Definitive DVD Collection - singer
  • The Four Tops: - performs 'River Deep - Mountain High'
  • Dionne Warwick - interview only
  • Only the Strong Survive - performs "Love Child" and "Someday, We'll Be Together"
  • Brenda Russell: "Walkin' in New York" - cameo in music video
  • PROFILES featuring Mary Wilson (2007)


  1. ^ Wilson, Mary (1999). Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith, Updated Edition: My Life as a Supreme. New York: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 081541000X.
  2. ^ Los Angeles Times, 9/2/1997
  3. ^
  4. ^

External links


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