(CelebrityAccess) — Mary Wilson, a founding member of the iconic vocal group the Supremes which helped to define the Motown sound, died on Monday at her home in Nevada. She was 76.
Her publicist Jay Schwartz confirmed the singer’s death to the New York Times but did not provide a cause of death.
The Supremes became the most successful act to come out of Detroit in the 1960s, with a record 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, ten of which Wilson sang backing vocals for.
A native of Mississippi, Wilson moved north while still a young girl, living first in St. Louis and Chicago before she again relocated to Detroit where she lived with an aunt and uncle.
While attending school in Detroit, Wilson became friends with Florence Ballard, who in 1959, recruited her to join a fledgling vocal group The Primettes, which later became the Supremes in 1961 after signing with Motown Records.
Within three years, the Supremes had become international stars on the strength of hits such as “Baby Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Come See About Me,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
In 1970, Diana Ross left the group, leaving Wilson the only remaining original member, now handling most of the lead vocals for the group. The group soldiered on, scoring several more hits, including Up the Ladder to the Roof” and “Stoned Love,” before Wilson finally stepped away in 1977 following a performance at Drury Lane Theatre in London.
Ms. Wilson next launched a solo career, releasing a self-titled debut album via Motown in 1979 but it failed to generate traction with fans and she was dropped from the label midway through production of her second solo album.
Throughout the mid-1980s, Wilson re-focused on musical theater, appearing in productions including Beehive, Dancing in the Streets and Supreme Soul.
She also penned the 1986 memoir “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” which became a best-seller, spending months on the best-seller list and helping to revitalize biographies for the publishing world. Wilson also became a frequent guest on television talk shows and began regularly performing in Las Vegas casinos and resorts.
In 2000, Wilson, and fellow Supreme Cindy Birdsong declined to participate in a reunion tour of the Supremes after promoter TNA/SFX offered them significantly less than Diana Ross for the tour, which was later canceled due to poor ticket sales.
Despite the friction between Ross and Wilson, Diana remembered her departed colleague on Twitter on Tuesday, writing: “I just woke up to this news, my condolences to you Mary’s family, I am reminded that each day is a gift, I have so many wonderful memories of our time together “The Supremes ” will live on in our hearts.”
Wilson married Pedro Ferrer in 1974 and the couple three children: Turkessa, Pedro Antonio Jr. and Rafael. Wilson and Ferrer divorced in 1981.
In 2013, Wilson joined the other Supremes when they were conducted into the inducted into National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame class 2013. Wilson also served as the master of ceremonies for the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame from 2016-2019 and a board member.
In 2020, Wilson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Ms. Wilson is survived her daughter, Turkessa; her sons Pedro Antonio Jr. and William; her sister, Kathryn; her brother, Roosevelt; and 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.