Mary Wilson of the Supremes has the half life of U-235. She is still going strong, decades after her pop entree into the national consciousness.
Iconic singer, actress, author, activist Mary Wilson, original member and one of the founders of the legendary Motown super groups, "The Supremes". The group celebrated hits such as: "Stop In the Name of Love", "Where Did Our Love Go", "Love Child", "Back in my Arms Again", and "Come See About Me". The premier Motown group enjoyed 12 number one hits from 1964 to 1969, being the most commercially successful Motown act, and America's most successful vocal act ever.
Post Supremes, Ms. Wilson has released several solo albums, has written two best selling books: "Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme" and "Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together". While continuing as a concert performer, she became a musicians right activist, an actress in theater, and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her dance hit "Time To Move On" debuted in 2015 and hit the charts.she is also the creator of "Mary Wilson/Supreme Gown Collection", displayed at the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame, and Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Ms. Wilson also uses her platform to promote AIDS awareness, encourage world peace and end world hunger.
I spoke to Ms. Wilson in depth regarding her career, the Supremes, and her future endeavors. She is a vivacious bundle of energy, eloquent and charming, and just a blast of sunshine.
Eileen Shapiro: During your performances, what can the audience look forward to?
Mary Wilson: Basically my shows, the majority of them are all based on the Supremes songs. I do maybe 10, 11,12,13, Supremes songs, sometimes less sometimes more. That's always the main subject matter, however since I've not been a Supreme for quite a few years, I do lots of other material and then I try to make it fun for everyone in terms of doing say, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, I do Sting, to Donna Summers. So, I do a wide range of material, but the show is kind of more than just music. Obviously, that's the base of the show, it's music, however I like for people to have fun. That's what I found is my gift from God, that I'm a performer, I perform for you. Hopefully that makes people happy because I try to do that. Obviously right now we need all the happiness we can get in this world. There is a fine thread of thought going through the show in terms of people enjoying themselves and feeling good and going back to being when they were young and wild and crazy. A lot of times when you grow up and become mature, you kind of lose that spontaneity of being a child. So that's kind of the thread that I run through in my shows.
Eileen Shapiro: I've seen many of your interviews and you seem like so much fun to be around.
Mary Wilson: Yeah, people say I'm funny, and I'm not really trying to be funny, but they say I am. So I guess if that's what comes out, then fine.
Eileen Shapiro: Any comments on your song, "Time To Move On"?
Mary Wilson: No, no...it really is actually my newer song which was last year. I recorded it and the record company put it out. It went to number 19 or something like that on the dance charts and it totally surprised me.
Eileen Shapiro: It's a great song.
Mary Wilson: Yeah, and it's very timely.
Eileen Shapiro: You have done so many cool things in your career, you've been in the grandest female group in history, you have written two best sellers, you are a singer, you are an actress in musical theater, you’re a mother, a grandmother, you're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you're an activist, an ambassador, is there anything that you still dream of doing that you haven't yet accomplished?
Mary Wilson: Yes, as a matter of fact all this year and last year I've been in classes. I'm taking acting classes, voice over classes, classes at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles, because we the Supremes were always dibbling and dabbling into acting, but I was always so busy making a living and raising my children. Of course, Diana did a wonderful job of acting. So it's something that I decided at this time of my life I'm pursuing. I had an audition yesterday so I'm waiting on my agent to call me. I don't think I got the part, but it's fun kind of starting something new. That's really what I'm doing now. At 74, I'm just starting to learn how to act and it's scary. You're so professional in one area and then you go into something else and you really don't know what you are doing, so I'm like, Oh God, I don't know if I passed that audition, but I sure would like the part. So we'll see.
Eileen Shapiro: You did theatre though?
Mary Wilson: I've done theater, but nothing really on the serious or dramatic side. I've done quite a bit of theater. "The Vagina Monologues" is one that I did. I also did a lot of musicals. I've done some other things, from off Broadway plays.
Eileen Shapiro: I'm trying not to ask you this only because you must have answered this question a billion times, but I just have to, what was it like to be a Supreme? I mean all of you were so young at the time. Did you even realize how enormous you were?
Mary Wilson: Well we started out, there were four of us. We started out very young, I think we were somewhere around 13 or 14 years old. Basically we were just doing it as a kind of hobby more or less. Then we really got hooked into it and decided to hang. It was something we decided that we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. I remember before we became famous, first of all it was so much fun, but then when we went to Motown, and kind of got hooked into recording, that's when it really took on a whole other level of what we wanted to do. Then we said, " Oh yeah, this is it". So I knew at that point in my life that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and now 57 years later I'm glad that I made that decision. When we finally became famous we had been singing something like six years, so it was one of those things where miracles do happen. It happened to us. We worked hard for it, but totally, totally enjoyed being on top. I totally enjoyed being on that level of life, when you've obtained those dreams and make those dreams come true. It was so exciting. We traveled the world, we met all kinds of people, worked with all kinds of people, it was one of those great experiences. Maybe everybody can't handle it, but I certainly did, and I certainly enjoyed it.
Eileen Shapiro: Did you feel that it was your destiny to be a singer, a performer, or did it just happen?
Mary Wilson: I felt that when it happened to us, even before it happened to us, when we were just singing, I knew that this was my path. Of course, I didn't know where it was going to lead, but the happiness and the joy, the creativity and all, all of the things were right there and I thought it feels good, this was a good soup, or cake to be in. I never asked for it, I never thought about being anything else, even though I thought of being a teacher. I really enjoy doing it so I kind of added that in to what I was doing and I still ended up teaching in my own way. Dancing was something I always enjoyed, so that too became part of what I did. I could've been a dancer, I could've been a teacher, a philosopher, because I've written several books, biographies. So that too was part of what I could've done in life. So all of those things I am able to do. I failed at it but I'm saying it with gratitude that I was able to explore a lot of different areas in my life. They were all good, but singing, the performing is the crux of everything for me.
Eileen Shapiro: How close to the movie "Dream Girls" was the Supremes story?
Mary Wilson: First of all it was a wonderful project. It's so close to us that sometimes it's scary, because you wonder how did these people know about you. Yet still, it wasn't about us. I think maybe we influenced a lot of people, and from that they decided to create this project which ended up wonderful but for us it was not so wonderful. We we're not really given the credit that we deserved having inspired these people, and it was so close to our story that I couldn't even do a movie based on the Supremes, because it's already been done.....when in fact it has not. It's kind of bittersweet, because it's great that someone thought that much about you that they would do a movie. That part of it was kind of wonderful. But still on the other part, especially because I'm in the area of writing my own story, as I said bittersweet.
Eileen Shapiro: It's too bad you couldn't come back with your own story, like The REAL Supremes or something, after all you wrote the book, and it was a best seller.
Mary Wilson: I know, that's what I mean, I tried to sell them but that was always the story, 'Well it's already been done". It could be done and I'm hoping that perhaps it still can be done. There could be two projects, one that's based on us and one that's the real story. It's all good and it all can turn out good. I just have to find the right way to handle it and to proceed with it.
Eileen Shapiro: Not that you have a free moment in your life, but will their be time for any more books in the near future?
Mary Wilson: I know as it is for most people time is really flying. You gotta hurry up and do whatever it is that you're going to do now. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. I'm actually putting together a coffee table book based upon the Supremes gowns. I have an exhibit of Supremes gowns, something like 50 to 60 gowns. They've been at various museums. One was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in the beginning and I still have a few gowns that are there. The others tour. The places that I am most proud of is in England, they toured there for about two years opening at the Victoria Albert Museum. So now I'm putting together this coffee table book based upon all the gowns. Some stories, not a lot of text, but basically it will be talking about the gowns, where we wore them and things like that. How they were made, that kind of thing.
Eileen Shapiro: That is so cool. Your gowns and Adam Ant's costumes all at the Victoria Albert.
Mary Wilson: Oh, Adam Ant, he did one of our songs.
Eileen Shapiro: If you could say anything to your fans and followers, what would it be?
Mary Wilson: There are so many different things. I guess I should really talk about the Supremes fans as opposed to just fans. They are wonderful. I was saying to people that it is important for us to maintain relationships and the relationships we have had with the fans have been fantastic. I met a guy just recently who showed me a picture of himself when he was about nine. He came to see us in Florida, he's now in his 40s or 50s, but it was just so wonderful to know that these people kept our music in their lives all these years. Many of them write to me, they write to Diana as well and tell us how our music has helped them through their lives. To me that's a relationship, you don't have to know someone to still have a relationship. We all are family related in some kind of way. I think that we really are and we need to remember, and maybe we wouldn't have as much violence in the world. If we all realize that somehow we're all connected.
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and check out Eileen's interview with Toni Braxton!