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Mary Wilson (singer)

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TheSupremes.jpg
Album cover showing Mary Wilson (center) with "The Supremes" - Florence Ballard and Diana Ross. This photograph was also used on the cover of Wilson's Dreamgirl autobiography

Mary Wilson (born March 6 1944 in Greenville, Mississippi) is a African American singer best known for her work as a member of the Motown soul and pop group The Supremes. Wilson was the only Supreme who was there from the very beginning in 1959, when the group was known as The Primettes, until the very end, when the group was dissolved in 1977. As a member of the Supremes, Wilson (along with Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, and later, Cindy Birdsong) enjoyed twelve US #1 hit records.

Contents

Biography

The Supremes

Main article: The Supremes

Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard were good friends in junior high school with a mutual interest in singing. When Milton Jenkins, manager of male vocal group The Primes, decided to form a female spin-off 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. In the early days, the girls traded lead vocals, with Wilson hadling many of the ballads in her distinctive alto voice. The Supremes went two years without a Top 40 hit, finally scoring with "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through his Eyes" in 1963. By 1964, Diane Ross (now Diana Ross) was the sole lead singer of the group, who finally began a long streak of Holland-Dozier-Holland-helmed Top 10 hits, including ten US #1 hits, with "Where Did Our Love Go".

During the mid-1960s, Wilson dated and later lived with Four Tops member Abdul "Duke" Fakir. After three years of phenomenal success, Motown chief Berry Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross & the Supremes and replaced Flo Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. The group carried on for the rest of the 1960s, although hits were less frequent than they had been during the middle part of the decade.

When Diana Ross left the group in 1970 for a solo career, singer Jean Terrell was brought in as her replacement. The "New" Supremes--Wilson, Terrell, and Birdsong--continued their hit-making process from 1970 through 1972 with big hits like "Up The Ladder To The Roof," "Stoned Love", "River Deep-Mountain High" (with The Four Tops), "Nathan Jones", and "Floy Joy".

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 pairing didn't last long. After Stevie Wonder's "Bad Weather" failed to ignite much interest, both Jean and Lynda departed the group. Mary enlisted Scherrie Payne (Freda's younger sister) and welcomed back Cindy Birdsong to carry on the group.

Mary took charge of the Supremes, sharing lead vocal duties with Scherrie. This trio continued on until 1976, when Cindy was replaced by Susaye Greene, also a former Wonderlove member. With Susaye, the Supremes recorded two more albums before they disbanded and gave their final performance at the Drury Theatre in London.

Solo career

Mary Wilson continued on as a solo artist, releasing her debut album on Motown Records entitled, Mary Wilson, and the single, "Red Hot," which hit #95 on the R&B/Soul charts in 1979. It wasn't long before she was on tour as "The Supremes' Mary Wilson." Motown dropped her from her contract in 1980, and Mary sought deals with Atlantic and the Boardwalk labels. In 1986, she released her first autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme, a New York Times Best Seller for months that was also eventually released in paperback.

In England, Mary recorded the dance single, "Don't Get Mad, Get Even" on the Motorcity label. In 1990, her second book, Supreme Faith: Someday, We'll Be Together, was released. She continued to tour, appearing in Vegas, Reno, Tahoe and other venues alongside comedians such as Jay Leno, Don Rickles, and Joan Rivers. In the early 1990s, Mary recorded her first solo album in 12 years, Walk the Line, on CEO Records. Two singles were released, "One Night With You," and the title track, "Walk the Line." The record company unfortunately folded, shortly after Mary's album was released.

On January 29, 1994, tragedy struck Mary when she fell asleep at the wheel of her Jeep Cherokee, which hit the central barrier of a highway in California. As a result of the accident, Mary suffered serious injuries and the youngest of her three children, 14-year-old Rafael Ferrer, died.

Later years

In the years since, Mary has released other records, namely "U" (1995) and "Turn Around" (1996) for various labels; both were hits in Europe. She continues to tour 9-10 months out of every year, singing those "old, old Supremes songs." In 1997, she moved to New York City and enrolled at New York University. She graduated from New York University in May of 2001 with an associate's degree in liberal arts. In April of 2001, she performed in the musical Leader of the Pack at the Shubert Theatre in Boston. The year after, she starred in the national touring company of Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies (http://community-2.webtv.net/stage7/SOPHISTICATEDLADY). In March of 2003, she performed in The Vagina Monologues at the Detroit Opera House. In September of 2003, she began hosting The Motown Show, a syndicated radio program on Westwood One.

Mary is divorced and has two living children and five grandchildren. Currently, she is recording an album of songs taken from her personal diaries for the Holland brothers, co-writers of many of The Supremes' #1 hits of the 1960s.

Discography

Albums

Motown releases
  • 1979: Mary Wilson
  • 1979: Red Hot
CEO release
  • 1991: Walk the Line

Singles

Motown release
  • 1979: "Red Hot"
CEO releases
  • 1991: "One Night With You"
  • 1991: "Walk the Line"
Other releases
  • 1995: "U"
  • 1996: "Turn Around"

Autobiographies

  • Wilson, Mary (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 006-016290-2
  • Wilson, Mary and Romanowski, Patricia (1986, 1990, 2000). Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith: My Life as a Supreme. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. ISBN 081-541000-X.

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