Ms. Mary Wilson still performs with the same passion as she did singing with the original Supremes, but the world renowned celebrity is now using her fame and flair to promote humanitarian efforts to end hunger, raise AIDS awareness and encourage world peace.
While Ms. Wilson is best known as a founding member of the world’s most famous female trio – they recorded 12 No.1 hits from 1964 to 1969 – the legendary singer’s career did not stop there, and she continues to soar to untold heights.
Ms. Wilson is a best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, the recipient of an Associate Degree from New York University in 2001, and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. In 2007, Ms. Wilson was named international spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a platform she uses to condemn the death and destruction caused by hidden landmines and unexploded ordnances in less developed countries.
Ms. Wilson’s “Dare to Dream” lecture, which she gives to young people, emphasizes the need for personal perseverance to achieve their goals, despite obstacles and adversities in their lives. The topic is the foundation of her best-selling autobiography “Dreamgirl - My Life as a Supreme.” Ms. Wilson later authored its sequel, “Supreme Faith - Someday We’ll Be Together.” In 2000, these two books, along with updated chapters, were combined to complete her third book. She is currently working on a fourth book, which will be a coffee table hardcover featuring the gowns, history and legacy of the Supremes.
Moreover, she has spread the Supremes’ legacy from the world stage to international museums with a touring exhibit entitled, “The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Gown Collection,” featuring their show-stopping gowns and coveted memorabilia. The gowns were on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and will be touring The United Kingdom before going on to Europe for another two years.
Over the years, Ms. Wilson has been highly recognized as the consummate humanitarian. She continues to devote her time and talent to assisting a diverse group of non-profit organizations, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the American Cancer Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The Po Leung Kuk schools of Hong Kung, UNICEF, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Figure Skaters of Harlem, a youth organization committed to helping children realize their dreams o compete in the Olympics. She has been active with Child Research, supporting a child around the world for the past 20 years.
In 1988, Mary Wilson accepted the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Supremes when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, the Supremes received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1998, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
In 2003, the National Foundation for Women Legislators bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Award on Ms. Wilson and invited her to a delegation of women legislators who traveled to Bahrain. She participated in a Trade and Civil Life Conference hosted by the Prince and Prime Minister of Bahrain and is proud to have played a role in helping pass the Freedom Trade Bill between the U.S. and Bahrain.
At the 37th Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in 2007, she received the Floyd Washington Auto Safety Advocacy Award for her commitment to auto safety.
Ms. Wilson has toured the globe as a performer and continues to travel as advocate on behalf of social and civic issues. As a Supreme, she performed for Britain’s Queen Mother and the future King of Sweden and other international audiences. However, Ms. Wilson’s global stature grew after former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell named her one of nine cultural ambassadors in 2003.
As an official “goodwill” ambassador, Ms. Wilson visited poverty-stricken areas in Bangladesh, where she witnessed children as young as five years old having to break bricks to earn money for their families. In Pakistan, she spoke at Fatima Jinnah Woman University about pursuing their goals and “Daring to Dream.” In Mozambique and Botswana, Ms. Wilson addressed young people about the dangers of HIV and AIDS and her quest for world peace.
In November 2004, she was one of the featured performers to headline the United Nations’ “World AIDS Day” concert at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. She later returned to the United Nations Building to lecture about the poverty, hunger and destruction she witnessed during her trips.
Interest in the Supremes’ legacy was renewed after the release of the award-winning film “Dreamgirls,” in 2006. While the film created a wonderful piece of work using the likeness of the Supremes, as well as their history, Ms. Wilson said it did not depict their true story.
The true story began nearly 50 years ago when Ms. Wilson started singing as a teenager while living in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass Projects. Performing at an elementary school talent showcase, she befriended Florence Ballard. They made a pledge to remember each other if they joined a singing group. The opportunity came in 1959 when Milton Jenkins, the manager of a male singing group, the Primes, decided to organize a spin-off girls’ group. A friend of the Primes, Betty McGlown, was the first person asked, and then Florence Ballard, who invited Ms. Wilson. One of the Primes, Paul Williams, recruited Diane Ross, who just happened to be a neighbor of Ms. Wilson’s, to round out the quartet ‘The Primettes’. After doing many rock and roll DJ shows around the Detroit area, performing songs by popular artists, such as Ray Charles and the drifters, at sock hops, social clubs and talent shows, the Primettes decided to audition for the up and coming Motown record company. Unfortunately Mr. Gordy told them to come back and see him after they all graduated from high school.
Determined to leave an impression on Motown President, Berry Gordy, Jr., and join the stable of rising Motown stars, the Primettes frequented his Hitsville, USA recording studio every day after school. Eventually, they convinced Mr. Gordy to sign them to his label. Much to their surprise Paul Williams and another ’Prime’ member Eddie Kendricks, had joined Otis William & the ’Distants’ to become members of the ‘Temptations’.
Although Gordy signed the girls to his label- it was under one condition, that they changed their name of the group. At this time Betty had left the group and was replaced with Barbara Martin. On January 15th 1961 the Primettes officially became The Supremes. On the day of the signing when Gordy asked them for their new name Florence was the only one who had collected a list of names from her family and friends and chose the ‘Supremes’.
In the spring of 1962, after regarding a few songs for their first album, Barbara Martin left the group to start a family. Thus the newly named Supremes continued as a trio; which to this day remains one of their trademark signatures.
From 1961 to 1963, the Supremes recorded many songs and released eight singles. At Motown the Supremes were jokingly referred to as the “no-hit Supremes.” But their fate changed dramatically in late 1963 when the song “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, peaked at number 23 on the Billboard pop chart. The next year, the Supremes released the single “Where Did Our Love Go,” which reached number one on the U.S. pop charts in August 1964 and number three in the United Kingdom. After that hit, the Supremes released four more number one hits, including: “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again,” making them the only group to have five consecutive number one hits.
Their success attracted promotional opportunities. The Supremes were one of the first pop groups of the 1960’s to do commercial endorsements. They endorsed Coca-Cola, Arrid deodorant, and they had their own “Supreme” white bread and brand of wigs.
The Temptations and the Supremes regarded two of the first TV Specials by any Pop stars. TCB and GIT were TV trends that are still popular today for pop artist.
The year 1967 was pivotal for the group. Mr. Gordy renamed them “Diana Ross and the Supremes”, Ms. Ballard left the group and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. January 1970 Diana Ross performed for the last time with the Supremes before pursuing a solo career. Ross’ departure left Ms. Wilson as the only original member of the Supremes. Ms. Wilson continued performing with Cindy Birdsong and Jean Terrell as the “New” Supremes, better known today as the “70’s Supremes.”
The “New” Supremes scored a number of hits including “Up the Ladder to the Roof” (US number 10, UK number 6), “Stoned Love” (US number 7, UK number 3) and “Nathan Jones” (US number 16, UK number 5). These three singles were also R&B Top Ten hits, with “Stoned Love” becoming their last number one hit in December of 1970. Songwriting/production team Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson produced another Top 20 hit for the group, a Supremes/Four Tops version of Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep – Mountain High.”
In 1972, the Supremes had their last Top 20 hit single release, “Floy Joy,” written and produced by Smokey Robinson, followed by the final US Top 40 hit, “Automatically Sunshine” with Ms. Wilson on lead vocals, (US number 37, UK number 10).
The 70’s found Mrs. Wilson getting married and starting a family.
In June 1977, Ms. Wilson embarked on her own solo career and toured Europe and Asia while raising three new babies. Ms. Wilson has recorded two solo albums, including her self-titled debut in 1979 with the single “Red Hot,” and her 1990 release “Walk the Line.” She is currently recording another album due for release in 2013 while helping to raise four of her 8 grandchildren.
As a Supreme Wilson endorsed the Vice President Hubert Humphrey, sang at Command Performances for the Royal family in England and Sweden.
Appearing as “Mary Wilson of the Original Supremes,” she is sought after to entertain all over the world. She performed for President Bill Clinton in the East Room of the White House at the Millennium Celebration.
As a mother and a grandmother, Ms. Wilson’s personal desire is to be involved in worthy causes around the world that improve the lives of individuals, families and all humanity. Ms. Wilson’s experience as a Supreme and cultural ambassador broadened her horizons and afforded her the opportunity to be an advocate for social and economic challenges in the United States and abroad.
Ms. Wilson was elated to be named spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), a non-government organization that establishes partnerships to raise money and awareness for landmine clearance projects across the globe, including Sri Lanka, Laos and Vietnam. When it was announced, Ralph L. Cwerman, president of the Humpty Dumpty Institute, called her “an original American icon” whose involvement will heighten attention to removal of these unexploded ordnances.
“HDI is privileged to have her as its new spokesperson,” Mr. Cwerman said. “Mine clearance and landmine awareness around the world will benefit greatly as Mary begins to speak out against these cruel weapons of war.”
In November 2007, Ms. Wilson traveled to Sri Lanka, where as many as 15 people are injured or killed every month by landmines. Her tour focused on clearing mines in northern Sri Lanka and regenerating the area’s dairy industry. Along with her seven-member band, Ms. Wilson gave a 90-minute concert, where she performed a medley of the Supremes’ greatest hits drawing diplomats, government officials and the news media to the dance floor. The proceeds from the concert were contributed to Sri Lankan charities assisting victims of landmines.
Ms. Wilson also has visited Laos, which received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the quality of life of children who were not attending school because they were hungry or in danger of unexploded ordnances. While in Muangkhai Village, Laos, Ms. Wilson personally pushed the button to detonate more than two tons of explosives found in and around villages and schools. In late 2008, her plans include travel to Vietnam, Cambodia and Okinawa, as well as returning to Laos, to clear landmines still active from the Vietnam War, which ended more than three decades ago.
She has also served as the national celebrity spokesperson for Universal Sisters; a division of the National Speaking of Women’s Health Foundation that helps women makes informed decisions about their health care, well being and personal safety.
Ms. Wilson has been instrumental in garnering support for the Truth in Music legislation, which protects the identities and rights of artists and prohibits imposter groups from using the names and likenesses of famous acts, such as the Supremes. Ms. Wilson and other 50 and 60 artists inspired Republican Sen. Robert Schuler of Cincinnati to introduce the ‘Truth in Music’ bill after they told him how bogus musical groups were using their names. At one point, at least five groups were claiming false ties to the Supremes. With the aid of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Ohio elected officials, State Sen. Bob Robbins and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ms. Wilson played a key role in helping the grassroots movement descend on Capitol Hill.
She also has testified before legislatures in Massachusetts, California and Washington, D.C. about the need for Truth in Music laws. Ms. Wilson and the National Foundation for Women Legislators pushed to get the bill passed in Michigan, Illinois and other states. Ms. Wilson personally worked to get support for the legislation in Nevada, Missouri and Texas.
So far, the bill has passed in more than 25 states and some of the states, including Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois approved an amendment to the Truth in Advertising Act (1968) that requires groups to have either an original member or a license to use their name.
Through the exhibit, “The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection,” Ms. Wilson is using her celebrity status to expose the international community to the impact their fashion had on social issues in the United States. The exhibit features exquisite fashions made popular by the Supremes during the 1960s at the height of the country’s racial unrest. The Supremes are credited for using style to change racial perceptions and to appeal to the people of all ethnic backgrounds.
The spectacular collection of gowns worn by Ms. Wilson and the original Supremes – Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, as well as the 1970s Supremes – will be showcased in the United Kingdom before starting a tour for two more years in Europe.
“The Story of the Supremes from the Mary Wilson Collection,” was most recently on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The collection spotlights more than 50 gowns from their earliest performances throughout their star-studded career, including the Butterfly dress worn on their television special in 1968.
Following the exhibit in London, the collection of glamorous gowns will travel to many other cities in the United Kingdom and Europe. The exquisite gowns were curated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for Ms. Wilson and later exhibited at the Detroit Historical Museum, the New York State Museum in Albany and the Long Island Museum. Several gowns have also been displayed at The Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York as part of the Rock and Roll of Fame Museum exhibit.