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MARY WILSON,
1944-2021

Mary Wilson, the co-founder of The Supremes who sang with the Motown trio for its nearly two decades of existence, died Monday night at her home in Las Vegas. She was 76.

“I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes,” Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement. “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.”

Wilson appeared on the 12 Pop #1s The Supremes scored between 1964 and 1969; the trio of Diana Ross, Florence Ballard (replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967) and Wilson also enjoyed 16 Top 10 Pop singles and 19 Top 10 R&B singles.

When Ross went solo in 1970, Wilson continued to sing behind The Supremes' post-Ross lead vocalists, topping the R&B chart with “Stoned Love” in 1970.

Universal Music Enterprises President/CEO Bruce Resnikoff said, “Many artists have Mary to thanks as she was often a spokesperson for the music industry and known as a fierce advocate for artist rights and copyright protection. But it was her music, first and foremost, that helped bridge America’s cultural divide and continues to inspire a new generation.”

Wilson and Ballard started singing together in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, enlisting Ross and a fourth member—first Betty McGlown, then Barbara Martin. The group was initially the female answer to The Primes, later The Temptations, and thus called themselves The Primettes. The quartet became The Supremes in 1961.

After recording a single for LuPine, they were singed to Motown, after which they became a trio, with Ross installed as their lead. They posted their first major hit, “Where Did Our Love Go,” in 1964.

The Supremes said goodbye with a concert in London in June 1977. Motown released Wilson’s self-titled solo LP in 1979. She released a second album, Walk the Line, in 1992.

The Supremes were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Wilson was active in artist-rights causes, contributing to the Music Modernization Act of 2018, and leading the fight for Truth in Music Advertising legislation to protect heritage acts from copycats.

“Mary was a force of nature,” said RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier. “She never stopped pushing for what she thought was right and would not shy away from a worthy fight. And she made a difference–securing fair treatment for generations of classic artists and paving the way for tomorrow’s stars. A towering figure in the history of music and artist rights, she was someone all of us at the RIAA were proud and honored to call a friend.”

Wilson was a regular participant in various Motown celebrations over the years, appeared on Dancing With the Stars in 2019 and wrote four books about her life.

 

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