LAS VEGAS — Mary Wilson, one of the original members of the Supremes, the 1960s group that helped establish the Motown sound and propelled Diana Ross to superstardom, has died. She was 76.
Wilson died Monday night at her home in Nevada and the cause was not immediately clear, said publicist Jay Schwartz.
Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard made up the first successful configuration of The Supremes, Motown’s first and most commercially successful girl group. Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967, and Wilson stayed with the group until it was officially disbanded in 1977.
The group’s first No. 1, million-selling song, “Where Did Our Love Go,” was released June 17, 1964. Touring at the time, Wilson said there was a moment when she realized they had a hit song.
“I remember that instead of going home on the bus, we flew,” she told The Associated Press in 2014. “That was our first plane ride. We flew home. We had really hit big.”
It would be the first of five consecutive No. 1s, with “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again” following in quick succession. The Supremes also recorded the hit songs “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Up the Ladder to the Roof” and “Love Child.”
“I just woke up to this news,” Ross tweeted on Tuesday, offering her condolences to Wilson’s family. “I am reminded that each day is a gift,” she added, writing “I have so many wonderful memories of our time together.”
At 15, Wilson was a founding member of the hit-making group that started as a quartet called The Primettes — formed with her Detroit housing project neighbor Ross, Betty McGlown and Florence Ballard.
Berry Gordy, who founded the Detroit-based Motown Records, said he was “extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes.” His statement Monday night, according to Variety, said “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown.’”
Wilson, Ross and Ballard were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
“The world has lost one of the brightest stars in our Motown family. Mary Wilson was an icon,” Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry said in a statement.
Wilson, in a recent YouTube video posted Saturday, said she was excited to celebrate Black history month, her upcoming birthday (March 6) and teased fans with the announcement that Universal Music had plans to release some of her music.
“We’re going to be talking about the Supremes, yeah, 60th anniversary, and I’m going to be talking a lot about that mainly because I’ve finally decided how to work with Universal and they’re going to release new recordings, Mary Wilson recordings,” she said. “Yes! At last!”
“Hopefully some of that will be out on my birthday,” she continued. “We’ll see. I’ve got my fingers crossed here. Yes I do.”
Several celebrities mourned Wilson’s death on social media, including Viola Davis, Questlove, Andy Cohen, Janet Mock, Ledisi, Richard Marx and Kiss’ Paul Stanley, who said he was in touch with Wilson last week.
“OMG! Mary Wilson of the Supremes has died suddenly. I was just on a Zoom call with her Wednesday for about an hour & never could have imagined this,” he tweeted Tuesday. “So full of life & great stories. Absolutely shocked. Rest In Supreme Peace Mary.”
Steven Van Zandt said he spoke to Wilson before the world went on lockdown because of the coronavirus, tweeting Tuesday: “RIP Mary Wilson. Legendary founding member of the Supremes and fantastic solo artist. I had a wonderful conversation with her just before the quarantine. She was full of energy and plans so this is shocking as well as tragic. Our love and condolences go to her family and friends.”
Following the Supremes’ disbandment, Wilson released the New York Times best-selling book, “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” in 1986. She released her second book, “Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together,” in 1990. Her last book, “Supreme Glamour,” was written with Mark Bego and was released in 2019.
Wilson also competed on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2019.
“Mary was a force of nature,” said Recording Industry Association of America chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier said Tuesday, via statement. “She never stopped pushing for what she thought was right and would not shy away from a worthy fight. And she made a difference — securing fair treatment for generations of classic artists and paving the way for tomorrow’s stars. A towering figure in the history of music and artist rights, all of us at RIAA are proud and honored to have called Mary a friend. We send our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones during this difficult time.”
Contributing: USA Today