Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Wilson, Mary

Singer Mary Wilson was born in Greenville, Mississippi in 1944. When she was a child, her family migrated north, first to St. Louis, then Chicago, and finally Detroit. When Wilson was nine years old, her family settled in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Project. Wilson met Florence Ballard during their elementary school’s talent show - both were competing as singers. The pair became fast friends. In 1959, Ballard recruited Wilson to join the Primettes, the sister-group of the Primes. Wilson in turn recruited her classmate, Diane Ross. Betty McGlown rounded out the group. 

The Primettes were not an overnight success. Despite attracting local attention, the group was initially rejected by Motown Records. Undeterred, the Primettes constantly visited Motown’s studio looking for their big break, which came when background performers were needed to provide handclaps on a few recordings. In 1961, Berry Gordy signed the Primettes when they were only 16 years old.  

Rebranded as the Supremes, the group struggled to make their mark, and McGlown departed the group. That struggle ended when the group was paired with Motown’s legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. In 1964, the Supremes scored the first of their 12 total Number 1 hits on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart with “Where Did Our Love Go?” Hits like “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love” catapulted the Supremes to stardom. 

Their success was not without its trials. Tensions within the group grew as Diane, now Diana, Ross’s profile grew. In 1967, the group’s name was changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes. Friction between Ross and Ballard left Wilson in the middle. By February 1970, Ross and Ballard left the group, making Wilson as the sole original member. She continued the Supremes with Cindy Birdsong and Jean Terrell. Line-up changes continued until the Supremes’ final performance in June 1977. Through it all, Wilson anchored the Supremes.  

Following her time with the Supremes, Wilson became a best-selling author with Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme and Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together. She also continued performing and speaking around the world. Mary Wilson passed away at her home in Henderson, Nevada on Monday February 8th, 2021 at the age of 76. 



Photograph of Bill Kennedy and The Supremes (left to right: Diana Ross, Bill Kennedy, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson), 1964

Booklet entitled "Meet the Supremes," 1965

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