A Supreme survivor...

mary wilson
mary wilson

MOTOWN legend Mary Wilson of The Supremes is making a welcome return to the UK in an extensive UK tour.

On the 20-date tour she will be joined by Chicago hit-makers The Chi-Lites.

Mary helped form a High School singing group called The Primettes with close friends Florence Ballard and Diana Ross in 1958. A fourth singer – Betty McGlown, later replaced by Barbara Martin, was soon dropped and the group became a trio.

They wanted to get on the books of Tamla Motown, but label boss Berry Gordy said they were too young and to return after they had finished school.

The trio didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and they turned up at the studios every day after school until Gordy relented and signed them in 1961.

One proviso was that they changed their name; and The Supremes were born.

Amazingly, despite their talents and exquisite voices, it was two years before they scored their first hit, a song called ‘When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes’.

This was the start of a long streak of hits written by the ‘in-house’ team of Holland-Dozier-Holland.

Hit upon hit followed: ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ was their first chart-topper in 1964, and it was followed by a trio of number one singles – ‘Baby Love’, ‘Come See About Me’ and ‘Stop in the Name Of Love’.

Berry Gordy then started to promote Ross as the main focus of the trio and after ‘The Happening’ was a hit in 1967, the band was renamed Diana Ross and The Supremes.

This of course caused not a little friction, which eventually resulted in Florence Ballard being replaced by Cindy Birdsong.

In 1970, Ross left for a solo career and Jean Terrell came in.

In 1977, The Supremes performed for the last time, their farewell concert being at the Drury Lane Theatre in London.

Mary has done more than most to keep the ‘true’ spirit of The Supremes alive; she has campaigned against imposter groups using the names of bands from the 1950s and 60s and has been successful in that a bill to ban these groups has now been passed in 27 states.

Also a great charity worker, her work includes The American Cancer Society, UNICEF and The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to name but three.

In recent years she has been involved with a touring exhibition of The Supremes’ former stage gowns.

Interest in The Supremes and their music has continued unabated and in 2006 the film ‘Dreamgirls’ was released which was based on the group’s career; and whilst Mary undertook personal appearances at the time with some of the stars of the film, she went on record as saying that the film “did not depict their true story.”

The former Supreme is a regular visitor to Britain.

“I just love performing in the UK,” she said, “The audiences are so appreciative, it’s one of my favourite places to tour. We’ll probably do some of the early hits like ‘Stop In the Name Of Love’ and ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, and there’ll also be some of my solo material including songs by Sting and Stevie Wonder.”

“It’s gonna be an eclectic kind of show,” she summarised.

Her special guests The Chi-Lites had a number of hits – especially on the Brunswick label, and their hits include ‘Oh Girl’, ‘Homely Girl’, ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’ and the evergreen ‘Have You Seen Her’.

Mary Wilson of the Original Supremes, with special guests The Chi-Lites, will be appearing at Buxton Opera House on Sunday March 6.

Tickets are available from the Box Office on 0845 127 2190 or from www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk.

Martin Hutchinson