Mary Wilson, co-founder of The Supremes, dead at 76

The popular Motown group recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

February 09, 2021, 8:36 AM

The music industry is mourning the death of Mary Wilson, a Motown legend and co-founder of The Supremes. She was 76.

The legendary girl group, of which she was the longest-running member, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

Wilson's longtime friend and publicist, Jay Schwartz, confirmed her death early Tuesday.

Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, openly grieved the late legend in a public statement, writing, "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."

He went on, "Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed."

Wilson started her legendary career when she co-founded The Primettes alongside Florence Ballard and Diana Ross and was signed by Motown Records in 1961. As part of The Supremes, which went on to become one of the best-selling vocal groups of all time with 12 No. 1 singles, Wilson played a direct role in hits such as "Baby Love," "Stop! In The Name of Love," "Love Child" and "Someday We'll Be Together."

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and is hailed for paving the way for future Black artists.

Exiting the group in 1977, Wilson became an advocate within the music industry and lobbied for musicians' rights. Schwartz said one of Wilson's last acts was lobbying to have Ballard, who died in 1976, commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.

She also directed her passions into social advocacy and humanitarian outreach, such as raising HIV/AIDS awareness and partnering with UNICEF. Wilson served as a former U.S. cultural ambassador and was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

She became active in musical theater and showed off her dance moves when she commanded the ballroom during the 28th season of "Dancing With the Stars."

Wilson, a New York Times bestselling author, published several autobiographies during her lifetime, starting with her 1986 tell-all, "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme," which went on to become one of the best-selling rock and roll autobiographies in history.

The two-time Grammy nominee also penned three other autobiographies: "Dreamgirl & Supreme Faith," "Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together" and "Supreme Glamour."

PHOTO: Singer Mary Wilson arrives for the world premiere of 'Sparkle' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., Aug. 16, 2012.
Singer Mary Wilson arrives for the world premiere of 'Sparkle' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., Aug. 16, 2012.
Paul Buck/EPA via Shutterstock, FILE

Wilson recently spoke about her life and career during a candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter, in which she spoke about a potential Supremes reunion, deferring the decision to Ross.

"I look at it like this, especially with this pandemic -- who knows when the end may come? And at 76-and-a-half years old I'm not going to sit around waiting for something," she said in January. "I have too much to live for now and be happy about."

Wilson is survived by her sister Kathryn, brother Roosevelt, daughter Turkessa, son Pedro Antonio Jr., adopted son Willie, 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Her agent said Wilson's funeral will be private due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but plans are in motion to celebrate her decorated life and career at a later time.

Fans wishing to honor Wilson's legacy can do so by making honorary donations to UNICEF and the Humpty Dumpty Institute.

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