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The Supreme One: Fans Remember a Historic Icon By Cassiette West-Williams

When I called the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the news assistant was so kind to me. She treated me like I was a distant relative, searching for more answers for Supremes’ co-founder Mary Wilson’s death. I was just the 127th person who had called that day. There were many more people, calling for the same reasons and seeking answers.

Mary Wilson On Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, Friends of the LBJ Library presented an evening with Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremes, in honor of the LBJ Library special exhibition, Motown: The Sound of Young America. The evening included a preview of the Showtime documentary, Hitsville: The Making of Motown. Judy Maggio, Editorial Director for Austin PBS KLRU, moderated the conversation. Following the program, a festive cocktail reception was held with Wilson in the Great Hall of the LBJ Library. Wilson is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, wife, mother, grandmother. She was a contestant on ABCÕs Dancing with the Stars in the fall of 2019. LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin 12/04/2019

Publicity photo of The Supremes from The Ed Sullivan Show, Feb. 20, 1966. They are performing My World Is Empty Without You.  L-R: Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross. Photo Credit CBS Television, Public Domain

Thousands of Supremes fans are waiting for a memorial or some public form of closure when the second to the last, original Supreme died unexpectedly on February 6th. Mary Wilson, 76, made her transition in her home in Henderson, NV. There was no cause of death revealed. One of her publicists said there was no distress when she was found, laying on her chaise lounge, with her phone and computer.

She had just posted on YouTube for celebrating the beginning of Black History Month and announcing that she could have new music out by her birthday, March 6th. Wilson appeared happy and excited in the video, as she shared with fans that this would be her year of triumph and opportunity.

Wilson had suffered from heart disease in the past. Yet, despite her health conditions, she was diligent and assertive in using her musical and writing gifts to keep going, decade after decade as a force to be recognized, without a current hit record in decades. The Supremes reunion never happened and she held her head high ad continued singing in Europe.

Wilson was looking forward to celebrating the 60th anniversary of Motown’s best, crossover, top-selling female trio, setting the standards high for any other female group to follow in their footsteps. She spoke regularly about promoting Motown records.

But once the group disbanded in 1977, Wilson kept refining herself as an artist, a college graduate, an ambassador for the United States, a domestic abuse survivor, an entertainment rights advocate, a mother of three, and an internationally best-selling author of three books. Wilson was able to make a way for herself, years after many critics felt she would not be successful as a solo artist. 

Ignoring the negative people in the industry, Wilson kept singing her Motown hits, ventured out into jazz supper clubs, joined her Motown family members, like Martha Reeves of the Vandellas, in duet shows, acted in television sitcoms like 227 and the Flip Wilson Show, and spoke on the college circuit set. 

Miss Wilson was able to reinvent herself for decades. Born in Mississippi, as a child, she came to live in Detroit, MI, to live with her relatives. When she attended Cass Technical High School, Wilson sang with her peers and made friends with the Primes (who would later be the Temptations) and the quartet, The Primettes. 

Wilson was asked to join a singing group by Florence Ballard, another co-founder of the Supremes. The young ladies from the Brewster Housing Projects became famous and used their talents to become role models for many youngsters, who had never seen a Black woman as a beautiful person with class and sophistication.

Supreme Mary Wilson may have been known as the “sexy” one, but she made it known that her legacy would be far more encompassing of many other important aspects of life. She may not have been the richest Supreme or the artist of the year, but she claimed her peace through her writing and sharing her perspective of Rock and Roll history. Imparting wisdom along the way, she pursued the high road of knowledge by making deposits in all types of people.

Wilson focused on what she really wanted in life and left her imprint for others to follow. Her missing presence still has fans shaken and saddened. At least we have her books, recordings, and fabulous gowns that have created an unforgettable image that will not be forgotten.