Legendary singer Mary Wilson of the iconic Supremes sadly died in her home on February 8, 2021, at the age of 76. Though she died suddenly, Wilson left her mark on the music industry long before her death as she and The Supremes have continued to positively impact not only fans, but musical artists across all genres.
Mary Wilson was an icon in her own right
Wilson’s music career began in 1959 when she joined the girl-group The Primettes with singers Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, who hailed from the same Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects in Detroit as she.
The trio performed in clubs and talent shows around the Automobile City and even won their fair share of competitions. In 1961, the group signed with Motown Records and became “The Supremes,” one of the label’s most successful groups of the 1960s.
By 1964, The Supremes had achieved ultimate superstardom after releasing 12 No. 1 hit singles, including “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Stop! In the name of Love.”
But like many iconic musical acts, The Supremes experienced behind-the-scene drama that ultimately put a strain on the singers’ relationship with each other.
In 1967, Motown’s CEO Berry Gordy changed the group’s name to Diana Ross & The Supremes. This, in turn, caused tensions to rise, resulting in Ballard leaving the group and later dying in poverty in 1976. Cindy Birdsong eventually replaced her.
For the next few years, Ross continued singing lead while Wilson and Birdsong sang “ooh-ooh-baby-baby” in the background. In 1970, Ross left the group to pursue a solo career, leaving Wilson to carry on the group as the last remaining founding member.
The Supremes continued recording music and traveling the world for several years before Wilson decided to leave the group in 1977. Shortly after her departure, the Supremes officially disbanded.
Mary Wilson adored being a Supreme and wanted to be remembered as such
Though she experienced ups and downs during her 16-year stint in the Supremes, Wilson doesn’t regret anything about being a member of the infamous girl group.
While she did admit to the Detroit Free Press in 2015 that she lost her individuality being part of the group, Wilson said that that was the only downside of her time with the Supremes.
“In a group, you really have to fight for your individuality. We were three individual women, each of us had our own thing, and so when it did become ‘Diana Ross and the Supremes,’ it did overshadow the other two,” she told the outlet. “Which was sad because we didn’t start off that way. It was difficult for us, but because we really loved each other, we couldn’t let it overshadow the love.”
According to the singer, she “absolutely adored being a Supreme” and shared that if she died, she wants to come back as “being Mary Wilson of the Supremes.”
Though Wilson is known primarily as one of the Supremes’ founding members, her legacy was bigger than the iconic group.
Having gone on to become a Broadway actor, bestselling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, and US Cultural Ambassador, Wilson helped pave the way for generations of women to come, which is something she will always be remembered for.