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Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes, dead at 76


Vocalist Mary Wilson, a founding member of the iconic girl group The Supremes, has died at the age of 76. Jay Schwartz, Wilson's longtime publicist confirmed the news, releasing a statement that she had "passed away suddenly" in her home in Las Vegas.

Mary Wilson's music journey begins in 1959 when a 15-year-old Wilson auditioned for a singing group called The Primettes. She joined other unknown hopefuls Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, and Betty McGlown. McGlown left the group soon after to begin a family, and by 1962, the group had landed a record deal with Motown Records as The Supremes.

Wilson is the longest standing member of The Supremes, with Florence Ballard's exit in 1968 (and untimely 1976 death) and Diana Ross' pursuit of a solo career in 1970. She continued to record with the evolving lineup of The Supremes until 1977. The three of them were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy released a statement saying, “I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of The Supremes. 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.”

Mary Wilson posted a video to her YouTube channel only two days prior to her death, excitedly sharing news of upcoming solo material with Universal Music. She hoped that "some of that will be out on my birthday, March 6." Watch the video, and a classic performance from The Supremes below.

Otis is the late morning host on WFPK. Email Otis at ojunior@lpm.org