Mary Wilson, the legendary diva and founding member of The Supremes — who served with the soul group longer than any other singer — passed away suddenly at her Las Vegas home on Monday night (Feb. 8). She was 76.
Wilson was always at the core of The Supremes, a steady force in the all-girl supergroup as members rotated out. The Motown icons earned 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — the record for the most No. 1s among American groups. Five of those No. 1s were consecutive: “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again.” It was a hot streak few artists will ever touch.
Formed in Detroit in 1959, then a quartet of 15-year-olds called The Primettes, The Supremes and Wilson were more than performers. They were unifiers and pioneers, whose music and style triggered social, racial, and gender barriers to come crashing down.
Mary was with the Supremes until their final album, Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, in 1976 and through 1977 when they disbanded. Afterwards, Wilson continued on as a solo artist. She was rarely far from the spotlight, and in recent months had teased a new album, due out in 2021.
In 2019, she competed in Dancing With The Stars and published Supreme Glamour, her fourth book. Outside of music, she threw her energies into numerous social and civic causes, from ending hunger and continuing the conversation on HIV/AIDS. And she was an advocate behind the Music Modernization Act, which extends copyright protection to her fellow recording artists and was signed into law in October 2018.
Motown founder Berry Gordy was heartbroken by news of her passing. “Mary Wilson was extremely special to me,” he says in a statement. “She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.”
Wilson was honored in 1973 with a Mary Wilson Day in Detroit, and The Supremes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. On the night, Wilson delivered a speech on behalf of the group.
Jan. 21 of this year marked the 60th anniversary of the day The Supremes signed with Motown in 1961. Wilson was front and center in the celebrations.
The award-winning singer never gave up hope of getting the band back together, in the right circumstances. “Well, let’s put it this way: It’s really up to Diana,” she told THR in January. “I don’t think she wants to do that. It doesn’t make sense unless you come together lovingly. Or at least have an understanding. It can be an understanding, that’s fine But I don’t think she does want to. So therefore I’m going on with my life.”
She is survived by her daughter Turkessa and grandchildren (Mia, Marcanthony, Marina); her son, Pedro Antonio Jr and grandchildren (Isaiah, Ilah, Alexander, Alexandria); her sister Kathryn; her brother, Roosevelt; her adopted son/cousin Willie and grandchildren (Erica (great granddaughter, Lori), Vanessa, Angela).
Services will be private due to COVID restrictions, a rep says, though a celebration of Wilson’s life and career will take place later this year.
The family asks in lieu of flowers, that friends and fans support UNCF.org and the Humpty Dumpty Institute.