Supremes founding member Mary Wilson celebrates 60 years in the business
What: Mary Wilson of the Supremes
When: 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, Friday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, Feb. 16; 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17
Where: Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Cost: Thursday tickets range from $43-$65. Friday tickets range from $50-$70. Saturday and Sunday tickets are $53 to $75.
Mary Wilson is celebrating her 60th year in the music business.
She is one of the founding members of the iconic Motown group The Supremes, along with Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Betty McGlown. The group, which started as The Primettes in 1959 and disbanded in 1977, boasts more than 12 top Billboard chart hits including “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Baby Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.”
In 1988, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was the inspiration for the fictional, eponymous band depicted in the 2006 musical “Dreamgirls.”
In addition, Wilson has penned the best-selling memoirs “Dream Girl: My Life as a Supreme” and “Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together Again.”
Those accomplishments sit well with the singer.
“It feels wonderful to have this kind of legacy and still be viable,” Wilson said. “When we started singing, we were 14 and 15, and we didn’t know it would last all of these years. But I will tell you something, if you find a career that you love and can do all your life, it’s fun.”
Part of Wilson’s enjoyment comes from singing the timeless songs created at the Motown record label, which is also celebrating its 60th anniversary.
“Thank God for Motown and (founder) Mr. Berry Gordy, for creating this whole collaboration between the songwriters, producers and artists,” Wilson said. “Everyone who were part of Motown had a dream. It was a place to go if you had a talent. It was a coming-together and sharing our thoughts and desires.”
Wilson was with Motown from the beginning and through part of her solo career. She has many memories of some of the label’s greats – Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Jackson Five and “Little” Stevie Wonder.
“We were there when nine-year-old Stevie Wonder first came to audition,” Wilson said.
Gordy told Wilson and her bandmates about this “little genius” who was going to come in.
“I was wondering what a genius looked like,” Wilson said laughing. “I’ve read about them, but I had never met one. And when I met him, I said, ‘Oh, that’s what a genius looks like!’ It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Still, there was nothing for Wilson like making records and singing the hits live, and there are a couple that have resonated with her over the years, she said.
One is “Reflections,” a Top 20 hit from 1968.
“It means so much more to me now than it did then, because I totally understand the lyrics today,” Wilson said. “It tells about reflections of the way we used to be.”
The other is the No. 1 hit “You Can’t Hurry Love,” which had a second wind of popularity in 1982 when Phil Collins recorded a cover.
“The reason why it has resonated with me is because I see that we do rush into love, and we lose loves,” she said. “Sometimes you never really find love.”
Wilson’s singing career has opened doors to other opportunities. Not only has she become an author, but in 2002 she also was appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell as the culture-connect ambassador for the U.S. State Department.
She also works with a list of nonprofits that range from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital to UNICEF and the NAACP.
“As the Supremes we were involved in politics very early in our career, and I just continued to add different (organizations) that I enjoyed working with,” she said.
Wilson has also worked with the Figure Skaters of Harlem for 27 years.
“I teach the girls how to ice skate, but it’s more than that,” she said. “I give them a good look at what it means to be a woman in today’s world, and give them information about how to grow up.”
The list continues. Wilson served as the spokeswoman for the Humpty Dumpty Institute, a nonprofit that works to alleviate famine and clear landmines in developing countries.
Mine-action programs aim to reduce the social, economic and environmental impact of unexploded ordinance that have been left over or forgotten in war-torn communities Wilson said.
“There were children who were still getting killed or maimed by these mines as they tried to collect them as scrap metal,” she said.
In 1994, after he son Rafael was killed in a car accident, Wilson began her “Dare to Dream” lecture series.
“The idea of ‘Dare to Dream’ is about getting back up and trying again after you’ve fallen down,” she said. “I started lecturing to share the ups and downs of my life story that included losing my son and being a Supreme. There were and are so many things going on in the world, so I felt it was important for me to share how I was able to maneuver through my journey.”
The lectures are designed to help her audiences rise above their limitations.
“There is a way to continue through these challenges,” Wilson said. “Life isn’t perfect. There are things that come up and there are no guidelines or maps of how you do certain things. So you may need to see how other people manage their lives.”
After 60 years, Wilson has no intention of retiring, and there she always has a new project she wants to take on.
“I’ve put together another book, and it’s called ‘Supreme Glamour,’” she said. “It’s a coffee table book about The Supremes’ styles and fashions.”
The book will be released in the U.K. in the spring, and it will be published in the U.S. in September.
“I’m also working on residency in Las Vegas,” she said. “It’s an idea, right now, but it will be something where I can sing more of my jazz songs.”
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