Mary Wilson, Motown Records vocalist and co-founding member of the Supremes, has died at age 76. Wilson died suddenly at her home in Nevada, her publicist told Variety. The circumstances of her death were not immediately revealed. Funeral services will be private due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a public memorial will be held later this year. Two days prior to her death, Wilson announced in a YouTube video that she was working with Universal Music Group to release solo material. She also said she was looking forward to upcoming interviews, as part of Black History Month, about the Supremes’ experience with racial segregation. “I was always proud of Mary,” Motown Records founder Berry Gordy said in a statement to Variety Monday night. “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.”
Wilson and Florence Ballard started the girl group when Wilson was just a 15-year-old living in a Detroit housing project. Joined by Diana Ross, the Supremes went on to rule the ’60s music charts with a string of No. 1 hits, including “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.” (Ballard, who struggled with addiction and depression, was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967.) Wilson was a constant figure in the girl group, remaining its linchpin even after Diana Ross left the group in 1970. After the Supremes said farewell in 1977, Wilson released a self-titled solo LP, its lone single charting. Her tell-all memoir Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme became a 1986 best seller, and she would go on to write two more books about her life in the Supremes, in 1990 and 2019.
Mary Wilson is survived by a daughter and son from her marriage to former Supremes manager Pedro Ferrer, whom she divorced in 1981, as well as several grandchildren. The family has asked friends and fans to support the United Negro College Fund and the Humpty Dumpty Institute in lieu of flowers.