The Supremes' co-founder and Motown trailblazer Mary Wilson dies at 76

Feb 9, 2021 at 9:56 am
click to enlarge The Supremes' co-founder and Motown trailblazer Mary Wilson dies at 76
Kathy Hutchins /

Mary Wilson — the Motown icon who, at just 15 years old and while living in Detroit housing projects, co-founded what would become the Supremes, the groundbreaking hit-making pop trio that rose to fame in the 1960s — died in her Henderson, Nevada, home on Monday. She was 76.

Wilson's publicist Jay Schwartz has confirmed the death, though no cause of death has been released.

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, 91, expressed sadness over Wilson's passing, calling her a “trailblazer” and “a diva.”

"The Supremes were always known as the 'sweethearts of Motown,'" Gordy said in a statement. "Mary, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s. After an unprecedented string of number one hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others."

“I was always proud of Mary,” Gordy continued. “She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes.”

Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry said “the world has lost one of the brightest stars in our Motown family,” and described Wilson as a legend who broke barriers.

Originally starting out in 1959 as the Primettes, Wilson, along with Florence Ballard and Diana Ross, signed to Motown Records in 1961 and changed their name to the Supremes. It would take a few years for the Supremes to take off, but when they did in the early 1960s, they quickly solidified themselves as one of Motown's most successful acts, thanks to 12 No. 1 singles, among them “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “I Hear a Symphony” and “Where Did Our Love Go.” Between 1964-1965, the Supremes landed five consecutive chart-toppers.

In 2019, Wilson released her fourth book, Supreme Glamour, and competed on Dancing With the Stars. Just days before her death, a vibrant Wilson posted a video to her YouTube channel in which she updated fans on upcoming releases, namely previously unreleased Supremes material, and reflected on the Supremes' legacy as it relates to Black History Month, including a slew of hits released during February throughout the years.

According to Wilson's publicist, Wilson's funeral will be private due to COVID-19, but says that there will be a public memorial sometime later this year.

“We, the Supremes, can’t take all the credit,” Wilson told The Guardian in 2019. “The writers and producers at Motown gave us the music and sound that people loved. And then there was the glamour. My whole life is like a dream. I tell you — if I were not a Supreme, I would want to be a Supreme. I'm living the dream.”

Read some of the touching tributes to Wilson below.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.