Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes and its longest-serving original member, has died at 76 in her Las Vegas home, according to Billboard. Formed in 1959 as the Primettes, The Supremes were one of music’s most iconic and influential R&B/pop groups of all time. Wilson remained with the group longer than any of the other founding members; Florence Ballard left in 1967 and Diana Ross departed in 1971. The group finally disbanded with Wilson’s departure in 1977.
Over the course of their near-twenty-year career, The Supremes became the most successful vocal group in American history, with 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. They were also the most successful Motown act, beyond the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and more. The group was called “the pride of Detroit” and the Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls is loosely based on their story. Among their numerous hits were radio staples like “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
Supremes co-founder Mary Wilson has joined the ancestors. Whenever I think of her, my mind IMMEDIATELY goes to the only Soul Train line Don Cornelius ever went down – bc Mary wanted him to. pic.twitter.com/8q9kb1TUbf
— Naima Cochrane (@naima) February 9, 2021
Wilson, who contributed lead vocals on post-Ross singles such as “Automatically Sunshine” and “Touch,” was integral to the group’s early success and was considered the main attraction after the departures of her co-founders and their replacements, Cindy Birdsong and Jean Terrell. Wilson’s 1986 memoir Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme became a national best-seller, prompting a follow-up and reviving her musical career. She appeared regularly on late-night television and in Las Vegas.
She reportedly passed away in her sleep, and as of yet, the causes are unknown.
Her contributions will not only be remembered, they’ll be indelible in the work of Supremes-inspired artists throughout the music industry — too many to name.