Motown legend Mary Wilson of the Supremes died suddenly Monday evening at her home in Las Vegas, according to her longtime friend and publicist, Jay Schwartz. She was 76
Wilson, who founded the Supremes with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, was born in Mississippi on March 6th, 1944. She grew up in Detroit, where her family moved after the end of World War Two. A friend of Florence Ballard’s since Junior High School, they formed a group while teenagers. The Primettes were first managed by Milton Jenkins, whose male clients The Primes would eventually evolve into the Temptations. Eventually both groups came to Motown — Florence chose the name Supremes from a list supplied by the label after Berry Gordy’s people felt the Primettes name wouldn’t fly.
Though they signed with the Motown in 1961, and worked with several of the company’s top writer-producers — including both Gordy and Smokey Robinson — it wasn’t until they were paired with Holland-Dozier-Holland in late 1963 that the group attained any success — it was then that “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” cracked the Top 25. Then, after a nearly six-month lull. “Where Did Our Love Go” hit number-one in August 1964. With a foot-stomping beat borrowed from The Four Seasons and Dave Clark Five combining with Ross’ cooing lead vocals, the group put together a run of five consecutive number-ones and emerged as the most successful American recording stars of the ’60s.
Wilson was the one constant in the Supremes career. Ballard was fired midway through 1967, replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Ross went solo as the ’70s began, her place taken by Jean Terrell. From that point, the lineup changed frequently with Mary maintaining the glamour and heritage of the group, even after they fell from the charts. The Supremes “officially” ended in 1977, though Wilson continued to tour with her own shows.