Artist News Business News

Music community pays tribute to Mary Wilson

By | Published on Wednesday 10 February 2021

Mary Wilson

The music community has paid tribute to Mary Wilson, the only founding member of The Supremes who stayed with the group until they split in 1977. She passed away at her Nevada home on Monday aged 76, her publicist confirmed, though he didn’t comment on the cause of her death.

Wilson was only fifteen when she co-founded The Primettes, the Detroit-based quartet that subsequently morphed into The Supremes. They changed their name after signing to Motown Records in 1961, becoming a trio the following year, with Wilson performing alongside Florence Ballard and Diana Ross. It took a couple of years for the group to achieve commercial success, but once it came there were five consecutive US number ones across 1964 and 1965.

By that time Diana Ross had been positioned as the leader of the group, which started performing as Diana Ross & The Supremes in 1967. Though it was Wilson who remained in the line-up even after Ross’s departure in 1970. Back as simply The Supremes, the group continued with its prolific output through to 1977.

Although much less prolific in release terms after the end of The Supremes, Wilson did put out a number of solo records and also guested on tracks for other artists. Her solo career was boosted in 1986 by the publication of her first autobiography, which told the often eventful story behind the pop phenomenon that had been The Supremes.

She was also involved in some interesting litigation from a music industry perspective. Legal battles over the use of her name led to new laws in some US states regarding who has the rights to use a band name if you have a group that has an ever-changing line-up over its history. She also fought to get access to Motown’s financial records in a dispute over the early record contracts she had signed.

That said, despite those past disputes with Motown, the label’s founder Berry Gordy was among those paying tribute to Wilson yesterday.

He told reporters: “I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of The Supremes. The Supremes opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others. 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. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed”.

Today Motown sits within the Universal Music Group, and its CEO, Lucian Grainge, also paid tribute yesterday, also noting that in more recent years Wilson had been an important advocate for artist rights and copyright reform within the US.

“Mary Wilson reigned ‘supreme’ in so many ways”, he said. “She had the most beautiful voice filled with passion and style. A great friend to Motown, Universal Music Group and artists everywhere, she was as much at home walking the halls of Congress to help pass landmark Music Modernization legislation as she was in front of an audience. Her charm, charisma and warmth brought people close to her and she lives on in her music and the memory of her indomitable spirit”.

And as for the most famous of Wilson’s fellow Supremes, Diana Ross posted her tribute on Twitter, stating: “My condolences to Mary’s family. I am reminded that each day is a gift, I have so many wonderful memories of our time together. The Supremes will live on, in our hearts”.