Life’s Been Good To Mary Wilson
There could not be a better title for an inspiring song or album than original and founding Supremes member Mary Wilson has for her current single and upcoming album than "Life’s Been Good To Me."
Coming out of the housing projects in Detroit and signing a record deal with prominent black owned record label Motown as a teenager as a member of the legendary Supremes, Miss Wilson’s life has lived out a fairytale story. We all know that fairytales also have moments of disappointment and sorrow along the way, and Wilson’s life story is no different.
With The Supremes amassing 12 #1 and 30 Top 40 pop singles, you would think that Wilson would have had the confidence to embark upon a solo career as did group mate Diana Ross, but to the contrary, Miss Wilson had a lack of confidence in her singing and performing talents which led her to continue with The Supremes as its leader for another seven years after Ross’ departure.
With heartbreaks and disappoints, (including the disbandment of The Supremes in 1977; the legal battles surrounding the use of the group name, the exclusion from The Supremes reunion tour; and her struggle to find a niche as a performer), Mary Wilson has managed to stay atop the mountain. Since the Supremes have disbanded, she’s written two best selling autobiographies ("Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme" and "Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll be Together")’ and is leading the fight in the establishment of The Truth in Music Laws protecting musical groups identities. She is also keeping the Supremes brand alive for new generations through touring a gown collection; and is now paying homage to the late, great Lena Horne in performance.
BeBe: What do you think you would have done if you weren’t a singer? We know you’ve authored couple of great books ( autobiographies, Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme and Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together), but what else would you have done had you not become a singer?
Mary Wilson: I can say the things that I enjoyed. I wanted to be a dancer and do ballet. I wanted to be a teacher. I’ve always thought I was a great philosopher. I’ve always thought had I gone to college I would have studied that (philosophy) or teaching. But I actually do all of that now, but in a different form.
BeBe: I was going to say that I think you do all of that now. And, you wear that hat well. When I think of you, Mary Wilson, I think of you as a person put on this Earth for a reason. You have been able to continue to teach by example for the last 53-odd years.
Mary Wilson: Yeah, I look at myself now and go like, wow, I did become a teacher, but not in school. Singing has enabled me to do a lot of things that I’ve consciously kind of thought that I would do like the teaching. I dance in my act. I move really well. So, I look now, and wow, I’m doing that. I didn’t plan it.
BeBe: You couldn’t plan it because it was a part of your destiny.
Mary Wilson: I think so. I followed the course of my life not by saying this is what I’m going to do but just by enjoying it. I’ve enjoyed the journey. Most people try and go for the gold, and I’ve always gone for the journey. That has kept me on a course that now, and only now, that I see all the pieces of the puzzle are put together pretty nicely.
A Solo Career
BeBe: Now, Mary, 1970 was the year that Diana Ross left The Supremes to pursue her solo career, and you, of course, became the matriarch of the group as it went forward for the next seven years. But in 1970 when Diana left, was there any thought given to you pursuing a solo career at that time and not going on with The Supremes?
Mary Wilson: First, when Florence (Ballard) left, and then Diane (Diana Ross’ birth name) left, I was sort of alone. I was all alone (with laughter)! The other pieces of my perfect life were no longer there, and I had to look at myself for a second and say "whoa" I love this. Everyone else is gone, but I’m gonna stay. I hadn’t finished out my dream. No, I never thought about stopping, not even for a day. But, it was very scary.
The next seven years with Jean (Terrell), Cindy (Birdsong), and then of course, Lynda (Laurence), Scherrie (Payne) and Susaye (Green), I went through that period mainly to discover who I was as a singer and performer. I kind of used that time to put myself where I needed to be. I knew I didn’t want to leave the stage, so I had to learn. That was my learning period. Then after that, I was then able to go out on my own. That was very scary because I didn’t know if I had the talent to do it (be a solo artist). I knew I had to learn to do it, but I didn’t know if I had the real talent to carry it off. And, eventually I did. Only now have I reached a point with my jazz work and my Lena Horne tribute show have I finally found my niche.
BeBe: It took you a few years, but you got it now!
Mary Wilson: (Laughing) I’ve always said that I was a turtle (taking my time).
Who is Mary?
BeBe: What defines Mary Wilson? Who am I as a solo performer? It’s kind of the same thing as being apart of a large family. You’ve always had those brothers and sisters around you, and then one day you’ve got to fly on your own, and you’re not used to that.
Mary Wilson: Unless you have the great talent that is right there. Mine was not defined. I knew that I sang ballads well, because as a Supreme, I always sang the ballads. I knew I did that well, but I didn’t know if it was good enough. It took me little while to say, ’okay, I can do this and it’s good enough.’
BeBe: One thing I remember and wanted to talk about was when the "Dreamgirls" film came out in 2007, I remember you being involved with the promotional tour for that film. There was Mary Wilson popping up with the stars of the movie at various promotional stops. In my mind, I thought it may have represented a stamp of approval from you since so many have said that "Dreamgirls" story was loosely based on The Supremes. Was that what was going on there?
Mary Wilson: That totally was not the way it was. And, I’m not defending myself. What I’m saying is that everyone was taking our (The Supremes’) credit, taking our history, taking our legacy, taking everything that pretty soon the brand becomes bigger than the individual. So, this was my way.......because every night that I’m on stage I will be the first one to say that that ("Dreamgirls") is NOT the story of The Supremes, however, I had to take back my identity because if I don’t the brand becomes so big and I’m left out of the equation.
My book "Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme" was another way of me taking back me. Because people were saying this ("Dreamgirls") is the story of The Supremes, no it’s NOT the story of The Supremes, so I named my book that so no one could take me out of the equation. So that and me hosting the premiere in Hollywood for the movie was my way of not letting the movie become bigger than I am. I’m one of the key players. I put myself right in the middle of it so I’m never ever lost in terms of people taking my history and leaving me so I become nothing. You can either say that is not the story, and of course half of the people are going to hate you for saying that, or you can do as I did which was to get right in the middle of it. I’m always in the thing, no matter what they do, no matter what they take away from me, they can’t take away me!
Back to SF
BeBe: Well, you will be returning to San Francisco December 10th to once again participate along with Bruce Vilanch, Spencer Day, X Factor contestant Jason Brock and others in the "Help Is on the Way" concert benefit for the Richmond/Ermet Aids Foundation. One thing I wanted to ask in relation to this benefit is as a prevalent performer in the late 70s and early 80s when the then unnamed AIDS epidemic began, how did this disease affect you personally?
Mary Wilson: As we first started recognizing AIDS as AIDS, many of my friends in the arts were passing. We were trying to figure out what the heck is going on! We had a lot of candlelight services in Los Angeles, at the time I was living in Hollywood, and it was when I was apart f one these candlelight outdoor services that it was an awakening because I thought oh my God my best friends are dying! That’s how I really got involved because it touched home. I’m sure most people in the arts are apart of the fight because it is our community that’s dying.
BeBe: And then, the new single, "Life’s Been Good To Me".
Mary Wilson: Yes, "Life’s Been Good To Me" is on iTunes and Amazon. I want people to get their radio stations to play it.
BeBe: The people got to call and request it. That’s right because you know how it is these days. It’s all about the coins passing hands before they put something on the radio. But the public does have the power to tell radio stations what they want to hear. The radio stations shouldn’t dictate what we hear, we should be telling them what we want to hear.
Mary Wilson: That’s why I’m asking everyone to call their favorite radio stations and ask them to play this record because you know what, it’s one of the best recordings I’ve ever done. It’s an inspirational record, it’s moving but it is also current and I sound GREAT!
BeBe: Ain’t nobody ever going to forget Miss Mary Wilson. Ain’t no how or no way. Let me tell you that! That leads right into the next thing that is, you hear a lot about the piracy laws not being enforce so well. But one thing that you have done, which I just became aware of, is get involved with the passage of preventing people from creating tribute or imposter groups from using the names of the originating group, again a way of maintaining ones identity. Over half of the States now have laws on the books preventing this type of identity left. Can you tell me a bit more about this?
Mary Wilson: Yes, it’s called The Truth in Music Law. Along with many 50s and 60s groups, we have had our identities stolen in terms of our monikers, our names....The Drifters, The Supremes, The Temptations....people are going out as those groups. We got together in a grass roots movement and got some laws passed so that now we don’t have to spend our own money in trying to sue these people. Now, there are laws and if they break them, if there is not one original member in the group they cannot use these names. We didn’t have record companies to fight for us anymore. I’ve had to use my own money to fight these people. I don’t have the money anymore to fight those people. I’ve lost millions of dollars in court. One of the things we wanted to do with this movement is to make people aware that this is happening. Just because you hear the group name, make sure the right people are in that group. The music is so big, people will just go see them. Now, people are aware, and I was one of the key people to change those laws. If you can understand this, you can understand how the movies, the "Dreamgirls", the "Sparkles", get away with stealing our identities.
Original and founding member of The Supremes Mary Wilson will join Bruce Vilanch, Spencer Day, X Factor’s Jason Brock, Tim Hockenberry, Paula West, Connie Champagne, and the casts of "The Book of Mormon" and Disney’s "The Lion King" to perform in Help Is On The Way For The Holidays XI the Holiday Gala and Benefit for The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation on December 10th at the Marine’s Memorial Theater in San Francisco. For tickets and more information go to HYPERLINK "http://www.HelpIsOnTheWay.org/"www.HelpIsOnTheWay.org