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Singer Mary Wilson, along with friends Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, formed The Supremes in 1961 and soon became a Motown legend.
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Born in Mississippi in 1944, singer Mary Wilson got her big break before even finishing high school when Motown Records signed her, along with friends Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, as The Supremes. She soon became a Motown legend and enjoyed a successful solo career after the group disbanded in 1977.
Singer. Born March 6, 1944 in Greenville, Mississippi, Mary Wilson endured a difficult childhood before rising to music superstardom. As a young black girl, Wilson frequently encountered the harsh realities of racism and inequality. "When I was growing up and our generation of black Americans were growing up," she said, "we didn't have the same rights and privileges as the other Americans. So having my parents making you aware as a child that 'You can't do this because you're black.' Let me tell you, we couldn't do certain things." Wilson moved around frequently during her childhood, living for long stretches of time with her aunt and uncle instead of her parents before finally landing in the rough-and-tumble Brewster-Douglass projects of Detroit, Michigan.
It was in a Brewster-Douglass grade school where Mary Wilson first met Florence Ballard, another girl who loved to sing; the two friends made a pact never to forget each other if either someday got a chance to make it big. As Wilson later remembered, "I used to listen to rock and roll when it was very early and I just loved it. Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers were my favorite group. And I was in the eighth grade when I joined the school talent show and I did one of their songs. That was the very first time and I just fell in love with it. Then I met Florence and she told me about this group that they were going to start, and would I like to be in it, and that's what got me into doing this."
In 1959, when she was just 15 years old, Mary Wilson's show business dreams began to come true much sooner than expected. She was discovered by manager Milton Jenkins, who picked her to lead a new group called The Primettes, an all-female answer to his popular male doo-wop group, The Primes. Making good on their childhood promise, Wilson brought Ballard into the group. Ballard in turn recruited her friend Diana Ross. A fourth member, Betty McGlown, rounded out the quartet and the girls began establishing a reputation while performing at local gigs and functions.
In 1961, The Primettes caught the eye of Motown Records President Berry Gordy. Gordy told the girls they had to finish high school before he would sign them to a record contract, but they couldn't stand wait. The Primettes took to hanging around outside Gordy's studio as often as they could until he finally agreed to sign them under one condition: They had to change the name of the group. In 1961, Mary Wilson and her friends signed with Motown, becoming (at Ballard's suggestion) The Supremes.
Though Diana Ross would later become the group's breakout star, Mary Wilson was The Supremes' original anchor.
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