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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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Backed by Gordy's seemingly unstoppable Motown hit machine,
But success did not come overnight. The Supremes' early years at Motown were marked by internal turmoil and failure to make much of a mark on the charts. Barbara Martin replaced Betty McGlown in the lineup, but was pressured by her parents to quit the group after becoming pregnant. Two years into their contract, The Supremes still hadn't produced a hit record and became the butt of jokes at Motown, where executives sarcastically called them the "no-hit Supremes."
After the group finally scored a Top 40 hit in 1963 with "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," they began their ascent to the top of the music world. Over the next several years, they churned out a seemingly endless string of enduring singles including "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," and "Stop In the Name of Love." Throughout the 1960s heyday of the Motown era, The Supremes dominated radio play and the Billboard charts, becoming one of America's most beloved musical acts.
But internal tensions were threatening to tear the trio apart. Under Gordy's guidance, The Supremes had evolved from a group of equals into an act featuring Diana Ross as lead singer, with Ballard and Wilson relegated to backup vocals on most tracks. Eventually, Ballard could not take it anymore; citing depression and health problems, she quit the group in 1967. Some sources say she left willingly while others suggest she was forced out after clashing with Ross. Cindy Birdsong took Ballard's place in the lineup and Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross and The Supremes. In 1970, Ross left The Supremes to pursue a successful solo career, leaving Wilson as the only original member alongside Birdsong and new addition Jean Terrell.
In the 1970s, Mary Wilson once again became the group's key member, the only steady presence in a trio that frequently shuffled in new singers to fill the other two spots of what became known as "The New Supremes." The only surviving link to the original Supremes, Wilson took on a more prominent role, but the new trio could never match the success of the original lineup. In 1972, The Supremes had their last hit with "Floy Joy," a Smokey Robinson production.
Later in the decade, Wilson married Pedro Ferrer and started a family. Things didn't go nearly as well for her childhood friend Florence Ballard, who endured a string of calamities in her personal life, ending with her 1976 death, at the age of only 32, from coronary thrombosis.
Finally in 1977, after a farewell concert at London's Drury Lane Theater, The Supremes officially disbanded and Mary Wilson began her solo career. In 1979, she released her first solo album, an eponymous record that did reasonably well, spurred on by the single "Red Hot" which became a great dance hit. In the 1980s, Wilson toured the globe and began pursuing creative projects outside of music, working on stage acting, movies and philanthropic ventures.
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