Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremes, died Monday, February 8, at her home in Las Vegas at the age of 76. She died naturally of hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, the Clark County medical examiner said.
“The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown,'” Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label, said in a statement.
“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… She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.”
In the early years of their career, the Supremes claimed a dozen No. 1 singles, five of which were consecutive from 1964-1965. “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again,” all topped the charts.
They were inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 by Little Richard who called them “the greatest” and said, “there’s never been anything like them.”
The group was founded in Detroit as The Primettes in 1959, when Wilson was 15 years old. They went on to become “The Supremes,” Motown’s most successful group of the 1960s. The Primettes lobbied Motown founder Berry Gordy to sign them to his record label. He finally agreed if the young group changed its name.
On January 15, 1961, The Primettes officially became The Supremes, and then became a trio in 1962 – with Ross, Ballard and Wilson. The Supremes were Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s, scoring 12 No. 1 singles, including “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Baby Love”.
Their influence not only carries on in contemporary R&B, soul and pop, they also helped pave the way for mainstream success by Black artists across all genres.
Wilson’s legacy went beyond singing. She became a bestselling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, and US Cultural Ambassador.