Those we lost in 2021: Mary Wilson remembered by Otis Williams

Mary was always a wonderful person, with such a beautiful spirit. I’d known her since we were young growing up in Detroit. She’d always be singing and dancing with her friends in the projects, and we used to rehearse in the same building. Then [when she was 15, in 1959] she became a member of the Primettes, who changed their name to the Supremes a year later, the same year that I became one of the Temptations.

Our careers went in parallel in many aspects, and that bonded us as friends. Our bands were known together as Motown’s no-hit wonders – neither of us had a hit until late 1963, early 1964, which was hard. But Mary had a lot of determination. She’d throw everything into her performances. We’d sing in nightclubs together and I’d watch her from the side of the stage, notice how hard she was working. She had that great smoky, sultry voice even when she was a teenager, this silky attitude and swagger. She was a real fashionista too. She loved dressing up and she was always as cute as a button.

She was so proud when the band started having big hits around the world, like Where Did Our Love Go and Baby Love [in 1964], then things started happening for us too [the Temptations’ first big hit, My Girl, was No 1 in January 1965]. I remember Mary buying a nice duplex on the west side of Detroit and she was so excited to decorate it and buy things for it. Things like that meant so much to kids like us.

Our bands recorded a single together, I’m Going to Make You Love Me [in 1968], and did a big television special – she was such a standout on that. As times went on [Diana Ross left the Supremes in 1970 to go solo], Mary was so determined to keep the band strong. She also fought to keep the Supremes’ name, which I learned a lot from. [Wilson helped draft the Truth in Music bill in the late 1990s, protecting the trademark of a band name for original members, which is now law in 35 out of 50 US states; Williams owns the rights to the Temptations’ name.]

And then she wrote her memoir, Dreamgirl, which was a huge success. It sold so well, and I think it was very inspirational and innovative in a lot of respects, like when she’s talking about the ways that life doesn’t always play out the way we want it to [she writes about the decline and early death of her friend and Supremes bandmate Florence Ballard]. Mary had a lot to deal with in her later life too, like when she lost her son [Rafael, in a car crash, when he was 14], but she never lost that spirit.

She kept in touch all the time over the years, sending letters and cards and calling. We were last in touch a few weeks before I heard she had gone. She told me she was in the process of doing her new album – we were both still making music – and she said to me: “I’m still your Mary.”

It was so out of the blue when she passed. I found out on Facebook that morning, and then I called around people I knew. I just couldn’t believe it. It made me think how Motown came along almost by happenstance, and how lucky we were to be part of something so historic and well loved. I know she loved being part of it too, singing those songs that will outlive us all.




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