Founding Member of The Supremes
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. She is a singer, a best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, wife, mother, and grandmother.
This year, Ms. Wilson is celebrating the 60th anniversary of The Supremes. With no sign of slowing down, she is getting ready to release her third book "Supreme Glamour" which will be released in the UK on May 23, 2019 and the US on Sept. 17, 2019. The highly anticipated coffee table book will showcase the gowns The Supremes were known for and will delve into the history of the most successful female recording group of all time.
A year ago, in 2018, marked an important step forward for Ms. Wilson's fight to have the Music Modernization Act (MMA) passed. Her vision came to fruition when Congress signed the act into law on Oct. 11, 2018. The act aims to modernize copyright-related issues for new music and audio recordings due to new forms of technology, like digital streaming, which did not protect music recorded before Feb. 15, 1972. She was joined in advocacy for this act by other legacy artists who want to gain fair compensation when their songs are played on digital radio stations.
In 2015, Ms. Wilson's song "Time to Move On" climbed to #23 on the Billboard dance charts, which marked her first time on the charts with a solo recording since The Supremes.
From The Primettes to The Supremes
Growing up in Detroit's Brewster-Douglass Projects, Mary Wilson enjoyed a passion for singing. Performing at an elementary school talent showcase, she met longtime friend and future group mate, Florence Ballard.
In 1959, Milton Jenkins, manager of male singing group, The Primes, decided to create a spin-off girls' group. A friend of the Primes, Betty McGlown, was first asked to join, and then Florence Ballard, who invited Ms. Wilson to join. At the same time, Ms. Wilson's then neighbor, Diana Ross, was asked by a member of The Primes, and completed the quartet The Primettes. After performing various gigs around Detroit, covering songs by popular artist, such as Ray Charles and the Drifters, The Primettes decided to audition for the up-and-coming Motown record company. Unfortunately due to their young age, Motown President, Berry Gordy, Jr., turned them down and suggested they come back after they graduated high school.
Determined to leave an impression on Gordy, the young Primettes frequented the Hitsville USA recording studio every day after school. Eventually, The Primettes convinced Gordy to sign them to his label, but under the condition that they change their group's name. On Jan. 15, 1961, The Primettes officially became The Supremes.
At this time, Betty McGlown left the group and was replaced by Barbara Martin. In the spring of 1962, after recording a few songs for their first album, Barbara Martin left the group to marry her childhood sweetheart. The Supremes became a trio with: Florence Ballad, Diana Ross, and Mary Wilson.
From 1961 to 1963, The Supremes recorded many songs and released eight singles, which did not garner much attention and jokingly earned them the title "no-hit Supremes" at Motown. 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, was released and peaked at #23 on the Billboard pop chart. Although released in June, it was in August 1964 that their single "Where Did Our Love Go," reached #1 on the U.S. pop charts and #3 in the United Kingdom. Four more #1 hits soon followed, including: "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop In the Name of Love," and "Back in My Arms Again," making The Supremes the only group to have five consecutive #1 hits.
The Supremes success attracted many promotional opportunities allowing them to become one of the first pop groups of the 1960s to do commercial endorsements, including Coca-Cola, Arrid deodorant, and even their own "Supreme" white bread and wig brands. The Temptations and The Supremes also taped two of the first TV specials by any pop stars. The TCB and GIT Specials were TV trends that are still popular today.
'Diana Ross and the Supremes'
The year 1967 was pivotal for the group. Ms. Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong and Berry Gordy renamed them "Diana Ross and the Supremes." In January 1970, Diana Ross performed for the last time with The Supremes before pursuing a solo career. With Ross' departure, Ms. Wilson was left as the only original member of The Supremes. Ms. Wilson continued performing with Cindy Birdsong and Jean Terrell as the "new" Supremes, better known today as the "70's Supremes."
The "new" Supremes scored a number of hits including "Up the Ladder to the Roof" (US #10, UK #6), "Stoned Love" (US #7, UK #3), and "Nathan Jones" (US #16, UK #5). These three singles were also R&B Top Ten hits, with "Stoned Love" becoming their last #1 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 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 #37, UK #10).
In 1988, Mary Wilson accepted the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Supremes when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, the Supremes received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1998, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.