Author: Victor Trammell
Photography: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for EJAF
One of the biggest stars that ever shined in the history of black American music has been called home untimely–after living a life her beloved fans wish lasted forever.
Entertainment Tonight (ET) reported that Mary Wilson (pictured), one-third of a 1960s-era Motown powerhouse, died at her Henderson, Nevada home on Monday evening (February 8). Jay Schwartz, Wilson’s publicist, told ET exclusively about the sad news.
No officially-determined reason for Wilson’s unforeseen death has been confirmed as of yet, Schwartz told ET in a statement. Wilson is best remembered as one of the founding members of the Motown Records group, The Supremes.
Following the departure of Florence Ballard and Diana Ross of the group, Wilson remained until The Supremes disbanded in 1977. She released three solo albums and also became an accomplished autobiographer. Her parents were named Sam and Johnnie Mae Wilson.
Wilson was born on March 6, 1944, in Greenville, Mississippi, and was the eldest of three children. She lived with her parents who relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. The family moved again to Chicago when Wilson was still very young.
She later went to live with her aunt Ivory ‘I.V.’ and uncle John L. Pippin in Detroit. Wilson returned to reside with her family at 9. At school, she met Florence Ballard, going on to join the original line-up of The Supremes, in the form of the Primettes.
Wilsn later graduated from Detroit’s Northeastern High School in 1962. After graduating, she chose a career in music. Following The Supremes disbandment in 1977, Wilson became involved in a legal battle with Motown relating to the group.
When the legal issues with Motown were finalized, she remained at the label as a solo artist, releasing a self-titled album in 1979. She began working on a second solo album in 1980. However, Motown and Wilson went their separate ways.
Wilson then began working on theatrical roles, which included parts in “Beehive,” “Dancing in the Streets,” and ‘Supreme Soul.” She took time out to write her memoirs, which Wilson entitled Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme in 1986.
Wilson began to become a regular guest on television, She was interviewed about her books and the career she had as a member of The Supremes.
In 1987, Wilson almost signed a deal to the Atlantic Records imprint. In 1990, she teamed up with Ian Levine’s Motor City recording imprint in the U.K., recording a cover version of “Ooh Child.”
In 1992 she released the album, “Walk the Line” and began working on acquiring the legal usage of her former singing group’s name. In the political realm, Wilson took on a high-profile role in lobbying for “Truth in Music” legislation.
In 1995, she released a song entitled “U” for the Contract Recording Company. In 1996, she released a song entitled “Turn Around” for the Da Bridge Records imprint. In 2001, Wilson starred in the national tour of “Leader of the Pack – The Ellie Greenwich Story.”
She was also appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell as a culture-connect ambassador for the U.S. State Department. More recently, Wilson created The Mary Wilson/The Supremes Gown Collection, an exhibition of the Supremes’ former stage attire.
Along with the other members of The Supremes, Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Wilson’s beauty, lovely voice, angelic smile, and sense of style brought vitality to a pioneering singing group of iconic black women.
In her lifetime, Wilson set a world-class standard for America’s contemporary music. As a soloist, she brought an even more refined brand of her top-of-the-line experience to the music world. Due to COVID-19, Wilson’s family will hold a private ceremony for her burial.
A special public celebration will be held later this year, ET reported late Monday evening.