Supremes at 60: Mary Wilson Says Reunion “Up to Diana Ross”

Supremes at 60: Mary Wilson Says Reunion “Up to Diana Ross”


The Supremes and Ed Sullivan
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The Supremes and Ed Sullivan

Sixty Years Ago:

On  January 21, 1961, a talented group, then a quartet of 15-year-olds from Detroit called The Primettes, was signed to Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown Records.

On January 14, 1970, the group, by then a trio billed as Diana Ross & the Supremes (minus Florence Ballard, who was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967 after struggling with alcoholism), performed a final show at the New Frontier in Las Vegas.

“We sat outside Motown every day until one of the producers came out and said, ‘You know what, we need some background hand claps,’ ” recalls Supreme Mary Wilson, 76, of the early days.

When Gordy saw how “serious” they were, he signed them: “Our parents had to actually sign the contract because we were underage.” He then made them change their name (so he could own the rights to it). They threw a few options in a hat and Ballard pulled out “The Supremes.”

In 1964 they scored five of their 12 No. 1 hits, including “Baby Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.”

Says Wilson: “The Civil Rights Act was passed around then. We became divas and citizens in the same year.”

The Vegas farewell, after which Ross embarked on a solo career, was for many a sad event.

As for a concert reunion with Ross, Wilson says, “Let’s put it this way: It’s really up to Diana.”