Mary Wilson, The Supremes' Founding Member, dies at 76
LOS ANGELES – Mary Wilson, a founding and original member of The Supremes, has died at age 76.
The famed singer passed away suddenly at her home in Henderson, Nevada, Monday night, according to a statement from her longtime friend and publicist, Jay Schwartz.
Wilson, who grew up in a housing project in Detroit, was an original member of the iconic Motown group known for its memorable 60s hits including "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "Back in My Arms Again." The Detroit-based trio of Wilson, Florence Ballard and Diana Ross signed for Motown Records on Jan. 21, 1961, becoming a driving force for the label and its unique Motown sound.
Born in Greenville, Mississippi, on March 6, 1944, Wilson was the eldest of three children to Sam and Johnnie Mae, who later moved to Detroit in the 1950s and grew up in the Brewster-Douglass Projects, meeting Ballard in elementary school. In 1959, Ballard, Wilson, as well as Betty McGlown and Ross, formed the singing group The Primettes who performed Ray Charles and Drifters covers at venues in and around Detroit. Barbara Martin replaced McGlown in 1960 and the quartet of teens auditioned for the then-new and unknown Detroit label Motown.
The mid-60s saw The Supremes reach new heights with its string of hit singles and the group becoming one of the first music acts to endorse products as well as one of the first, along with The Temptations, to tape a TV special.
But Ross, who was the lead singer, was increasingly the face of the group, resulting in tensions between the members. In 1967, Motown owner Berry Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross and the Supremes and later in the same year Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong.
In 1970, the group performed a final show at the Frontier in Las Vegas. Ross left the group to pursue a solo career and Wilson, Birdsong and Jean Terrell continued to perform as the "New Supremes."