Mary Wilson Of The Supremes
From 1961 to 1963, the Supremes recorded many songs and released eight singles. At Motown the Supremes were jokingly referred to as the “no-hit Supremes.” But their fate changed dramatically in late 1963 when the song When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, peaked at number 23 on the Billboard pop chart. The next year, the Supremes released the single Where Did Our Love Go, which reached number one on the U.S. pop charts in August 1964 and number three in the United Kingdom. After that hit, the Supremes released four more number one hits, including: Baby Love, Come See About Me, Stop In the Name of Love, and Back in My Arms Again, making them the only group to have five consecutive number one hits in America. In the UK they continued with a string of hits including, I Hear A Symphony, You Cant Hurry Love, You Keep Me Hanging On, The Happening, Reflections, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and Someday We’ll Be Together.
Their success attracted promotional opportunities. The Supremes were one of the first pop groups of the 1960’s to do commercial endorsements. They endorsed Coca-Cola, Arrid deodorant, and they had their own “Supreme” white bread and brand of wigs.
The year 1967 was pivotal for the group. Mr. Gordy renamed them Diana Ross and the Supremes, Ms. Ballard left the group and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. January 1970 Diana Ross performed for the last time with the Supremes before pursuing a solo career. Ross’ departure left Ms. Wilson as the only original member of the Supremes. Ms. Wilson continued performing with Cindy Birdsong and Jean Terrell.
The “New” Supremes scored a number of hits including Up the Ladder to the Roof (US number 10, UK number 6), Stoned Love (US number 7, UK number 3) and Nathan Jones (US number 16, UK number 5). These three singles were also R&B Top Ten hits, with Stoned Love becoming their last number one hit in December of 1970. Songwriting/production team Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson produced another Top 20 hit for the group, a Supremes/Four Tops version of Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High.
In 1972, the Supremes had their last USA Top 20 hit single release, Floy Joy, written and produced by Smokey Robinson, followed by the final US Top 40 hit, Automatically Sunshine with Ms. Wilson on lead vocals, (US number 37, UK number 10). In June 1977, Ms. Wilson embarked on her own solo career and toured Europe and Asia while raising three new babies. Ms. Wilson has recorded two solo albums, including her self-titled debut in 1979 with the single Red Hot, and her 1990 release Walk the Line.
As a Supreme Wilson endorsed the Vice President Hubert Humphrey, sang at Command Performances for the Royal family in England and Sweden. Appearing as “Mary Wilson of the Original Supremes,” she is sought after to entertain all over the world. She performed for President Bill Clinton in the East Room of the White House at the Millennium Celebration. Ms. Mary Wilson still performs with the same passion as she did singing with the original Supremes, but the world renowned celebrity is now using her fame and flair to promote humanitarian efforts to end hunger, raise AIDS awareness and encourage world peace.
While Ms. Wilson is best known as a founding member of the world’s most famous female trio – they recorded 12 No.1 hits from 1964 to 1969 – the legendary singer’s career did not stop there, and she continues to soar to untold heights. Ms. Wilson is a best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, the recipient of an Associate Degree from New York University in 2001, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. In 2007, Ms. Wilson was named international spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a platform she uses to condemn the death and destruction caused by hidden landmines and unexploded ordnances in less developed countries. Interest in the Supremes’ legacy was renewed after the release of the award-winning film Dreamgirls, in 2006. While the film created a wonderful piece of work using the likeness of the Supremes, as well as their history, Ms. Wilson said it did not depict their true story.
The true story began nearly 50 years ago when Ms. Wilson started singing as a teenager while living in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass Projects. Performing at an elementary school talent showcase, she befriended Florence Ballard. They made a pledge to remember each other if they joined a singing group. The opportunity came in 1959 when Milton Jenkins, the manager of a male singing group, the Primes, decided to organize a spin-off girls’ group. A friend of the Primes, Betty McGlown, was the first person asked, and then Florence Ballard, who invited Ms. Wilson. One of the Primes, Paul Williams, recruited Diane Ross, who just happened to be a neighbor of Ms. Wilson’s, to round out the quartet ‘The Primettes’. After doing many rock and roll DJ shows around the Detroit area, performing songs by popular artists, such as Ray Charles and The Drifters, at sock hops, social clubs and talent shows, the Primettes decided to audition for the up and coming Motown record company. Unfortunately Mr. Gordy told them to come back and see him after they all graduated from high school.
Determined to leave an impression on Motown President, Berry Gordy, Jr., and join the stable of rising Motown stars, the Primettes frequented his Hitsville, USA recording studio every day after school. Eventually, they convinced Mr. Gordy to sign them to his label. Much to their surprise Paul Williams and another ’Prime’ member Eddie Kendricks, had joined Otis William & the ’Distants’ to become members of the ‘Temptations’.
Although Gordy signed the girls to his label- it was under one condition, that they changed their name of the group. At this time Betty had left the group and was replaced with Barbara Martin. On January 15th 1961 the Primettes officially became The Supremes. On the day of the signing when Gordy asked them for their new name Florence was the only one who had collected a list of names from her family and friends and chose the ‘Supremes’. In the spring of 1962, after regarding a few songs for their first album, Barbara Martin left the group to start a family. Thus the newly named Supremes continued as a trio; which to this day remains one of their trademark signatures.
The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection, was most recently on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The collection spotlights more than 50 gowns from their earliest performances throughout their star-studded career, including the Butterfly dress worn on their television special in 1968.
Following the exhibit in London, the collection of glamorous gowns will travel to many other cities in the United Kingdom and Europe. The exquisite gowns were curated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for Ms. Wilson and later exhibited at the Detroit Historical Museum, the New York State Museum in Albany and the Long Island Museum. Several gowns have also been displayed at The Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York as part of the Rock and Roll of Fame Museum exhibit.
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