Legendary Motown singer Mary Wilson has died aged 76, her publicist has confirmed.
The star, an integral member of soul pioneers The Supremes, died suddenly at her home in Las Vegas on February 8th. A cause of death is yet to be announced.
Long-term publicist Jay Schwartz confirmed that Wilson’s funeral service will be held privately in accordance with current health and safety guidelines, but a public memorial will be scheduled for later in the year.
Tragic: Legendary Motown singer Mary Wilson has died aged 76, her publicist has confirmed.
Along with band-mates Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, Wilson was at the forefront of the Motown sound after signing with the label in 1961 when she was 15-years old, originally as a member of The Primettes before the group changed their name.
Paying tribute to Wilson in a statement on Monday night, Motown founder Berry Gordy said: ‘I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes.
‘The Supremes were always known as the “sweethearts of Motown.” Mary, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s.
‘After an unprecedented string of No. 1 hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others. … I was always proud of Mary.
Trailblazers: Wilson was at the forefront of the Motown sound after signing with the label in 1961, originally as a member of The Primettes before the group changed their name to The Supremes( pictured L-R: Band-mates Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard)
Success: The Supremes became international stars after scoring a string of hits throughout the 1960s and into the ’70s (pictured in London, 1968)
‘She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.’
Only two days before her death the singer had shared a YouTube post in which she promised to release more material after working with Universal Music.
Those releases were expected to include the previously shelved album Red Hot, recorded by the singer in the late 1970s.
‘So much has happened to me in the month of February,’ she told subscribers. ‘Mainly because I’m working with Universal Music and they are going to release new recordings – Mary Wilson recordings.’
She added: ‘Hopefully some of that will be out on my birthday, March 6.’
Legendary: Wilson has been described as a ‘trailblazer’ by Motown founder Berry Gordy
BERRY GORDY’S STATEMENT IN FULL
‘The Supremes were always known as the “sweethearts of Motown.” Mary, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to
Motown in the early 1960’s. After an unprecedented string of number one hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others.
I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes.
Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.’
Born in rural Greenville, Mississippi in 1944, Wilson became an international star with The Supremes as the band racked up a string of hits throughout the 1960s and ’70s.
The singer featured on all of their singles chart-topping singles from that period, among them Baby Love, Stop! In The Name Of Love and You Keep Me Hanging’ On.
However there were dramatic changes to the line-up, with Ballard leaving in 1967 and Ross – around whom Gordy renamed the band – embarking on what would be a hugely successful solo career in 1970.
The group finally disbanded following a farewell show in London in 1977, with Wilson going on to release two studio albums; her last, Walk The Line, was released by CEO in 1992.
The singer went on to publish three books about her time with The Supremes, among them 1986 memoir Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme, a warts-and-all account of the fraught dynamic within the band.
Speaking to Jet magazine shortly after its release, she said: ‘I’m sure people will have their own opinions about that, but I really don’t care.
‘My main thing is that when I was in the group I maintained my position and I didn’t step into Diane’s position. I’m no longer in the group now. I have my own position to uphold and it’s not in the background.’
Poignant: Taking to Twitter on January 2nd Wilson asked fans what they were doing to make 2021 ‘a better year’
Trick or treat: On Halloween night the singer revealed she had dressed up as version of herself from the 1960s
Reflecting on the success of Motown in 2010, she told The Guardian: ‘It really was like walking into a Disneyland. All these creative people.
‘People say: “Motown, it was this big building”, but I always say no, Motown was always a collaboration between the people, with Berry (Gordy) at the head of course.’
On alleged tensions between herself, Ross and Ballard – who passed away following a long battle with alcoholism in 1976 – she added: ‘I think we all think of ourselves as distant cousins. There are some things, but there’s no hate – I still would want to be at Motown…
‘She grew up as Diane, and Florence grew up as Flo. We’re friends but we don’t call each other constantly. We’ve grown apart, but it’s not because we don’t like each other.
‘My love for Flo and Diane is pretty much almost the same as for my sisters – we had so much together, we grew up together.’
Wilson married former Supremes manager Pedro Ferrer in Las Vegas on May 11th 1977. The couple had three children – Turkessa, Pedro Antonio Jr. and Rafael – before divorcing in 1981.
However the singer would suffer tragedy in 1994 when her Jeep flipped on the road between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, injuring herself and killing 14-year old Rafael.
She is survived by children Turkessa, Pedro Antonio Jr and her grandchildren – Mia, Marcanthony, Marina, Isaiah, Ilah, Alexander and Alexandria.
All change: Wilson (centre) became the longest serving member of The Supremes after Ballard (left) quit in 1967, followed by Diana Ross (right) in 1970
All over: The group finally disbanded following a farewell tour in 1977