Diana Ross, who cofounded the Supremes with Mary Wilson when both were in their early teens, paid tribute to her friend and longtime bandmate in a brief Twitter post on Tuesday.
“I just woke up to this news , my condolences to you Mary’s family ,I am reminded that each day is a gift ,I have so many wonderful memories of our time together. The Supremes will live on, in our hearts,” she wrote of Wilson (pictured above, left), who died Monday of undisclosed causes. She was 76.
I just woke up to this news , my condolences to you Mary’s family ,I am reminded that each day is a gift ,I have so many wonderful memories of our time together “The Supremes ” will live on ,in our hearts 💕
— Ms. Ross (@DianaRoss) February 9, 2021
Wilson had already briefly sung in a group led by Aretha Franklin’s younger sister Carolyn when she was approached by Florence Ballard, a neighbor in Detroit’s Brewster projects, to form a new group that would serve as a “sister act” to the Primes, a male quintet that included Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, both future members of the Motown unit the Temptations.
The two girls were soon joined by Ross (who would only take the professional name “Diana” after the group’s first hits). With fourth member Betty McGlown and her successor Barbara Martin, they would perform as the Primettes until they rechristened themselves as the Supremes in early 1961.
With lead vocalist Diana Ross and founding member Florence Ballard (and with Ballard’s replacement Cindy Birdsong), Wilson appeared on all 12 of the Supremes’ No. 1 pop hits from 1964-69; during that period, the act – the biggest of Motown’s vocal groups thanks to their silken sound – charted a total of 16 top-10 pop singles and 19 top-10 R&B 45s (six of them chart-toppers).
“I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supreme,” said Berry Gordy in a statement Monday night. “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown.’ 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. … 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. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed.”