The Supremes [RIP Mary Wilson]

I wasn’t around in the 60s and, until earlier this month, only knew of the Supremes by their hit songs on the radio, mostly attributing their popularity to Diana Ross. I saw Dreamgirls, but didn’t connect any dots into the history of the group.

But something caught my attention earlier this month, and sent me down a rabbit hole to learning as much as I could about the history of the original group and members Diane Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson — how they were childhood friends that started as an equal group, the Primettes in 1959, then joined Motown, became unequal when Motown put Diana out front, split up, added new members, and reunions that did and didn’t happen.

Through interviews, their books, and performances on YT, I gained some insight into what made them so popular when they emerged on the scene. The perspective of each lady telling her own story is an informative window into the dynamics of this group and reminds me that there are three sides to every story.

Florence Ballard’s story and death at an early age is a particularly tough pill. She died when I was a toddler, so all that history unfolding was over my head. Going back to learn about her life and death is sad, but learning about her early abuse and how it could have led to her alcoholism explains a lot. In an interview, Mary Wilson talks about how at that time, they didn’t talk about things (which didn’t help Ballard), but now we are shining more light on these things to help people, which is so important.

If you lived through the emergence of the Supremes in the 60s, what are your memories? Have you followed the group or careers of its former members?

This year we lost Mary Wilson.

NPR’s Fresh Air played a nice interview of Mary Wilson: