With a dazzling smile from ear to ear, cheeks rosed from blush and shining silver earrings, Mary Wilson appeared as elegant as ever as she picked up her camera one last time on Feb. 6, 2021.
“Well, it is Black History Month! Yes indeed, it is,” Wilson exclaimed smiling at the camera. “And I am just so thrilled!”
Looking forward to celebrating Black History Month and the 60th anniversary of The Supremes signing with Motown, Wilson died at 76, only two days after posting the video on her Youtube Channel, in her home in Henderson, Nevada.
Both glamorous and ground-breaking, Wilson was considered a linchpin of The Supremes, Motown’s most successful group in the 1960s. She died after a 60-year long career.
Known as the “sweethearts of Motown,” The Supremes were formed in the projects of Detroit in 1959. Wilson joined with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, first as the Primettes, in hopes of getting signed into Motown. In 1961, the Primettes officially became The Supremes as they signed with Berry Gordy’s label.
Only four years later, the iconic trio went from recording handclaps on a record to releasing their first No. 1 hit. “Where Did Our Love Go,” a million-selling song, peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1964.
“Where Did Our Love Go” was only the first of five No. 1 in a row – quickly followed by “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again.”
The Supremes’ success went far beyond their memorable lyrics and dazzling gowns. The trio’s ability to reach audiences of all kinds at a time when the United States was grappling with deeply rooted divides and tensions around the civil rights movement paved the way for many others.
“After an unprecedented string of number one hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others,” Berry Gordy wrote in a tribune to Wilson on Feb. 8.
The trio broke down historical racial barriers as they performed in white venues, asserting their place as a part of American music.
“We came from a time when, as Black people, you didn’t dream about becoming a star, you didn’t dream about making money,” Wilson told ABC 7 during an interview. “It was all about being a human being, being respected, being equal.”
The success and popularity of these three women of color was unprecedented. In 1988, The Supremes were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Rest in power, #MaryWilson.
— The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center (@TheKingCenter) February 9, 2021
Wilson remained loyal to the glamorous trio until its dissolution in 1977. She then continued with her solo career, which was boosted in 1986 by the sales of her memoir, “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.”
Wilson stayed in the spotlight until recently. In 2019, she competed on “Dancing With the Stars” and she released a coffee table book, “Supreme Glamour,” which was a collection of personal stories and fashion pictures.
Wilson said at the time that The Supremes’ glamour changed things.
Their glamour was definitely not the only trailblazing aspect of Wilson’s career. She fought numerous legal battles against those who attempted to exploit the “Supremes” name. Her activism helped pass a law in 2018, the Music Modernization Act, which permits the use of a group’s identity only by original members or the last person to hold the right of title to the name.
Wilson was nowhere close to being done with her career. In her Feb. 6 video, she shared exciting upcoming projects. She announced the release of new solo material with Universal Music – which she hoped would come out on her birthday, March 6.
Thank you Ms Mary Wilson for showing us all how to be Supreme. pic.twitter.com/MipmhQaTr4
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) February 9, 2021
In honor of Black History Month, Wilson was excited to share interviews done with The Supremes regarding their experiences with segregation.
“I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes,” Gordy wrote in his statement.
“Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva, and will be deeply missed.”