You Say It's Your Birthday: Mary Wilson Of The Supremes

Today is the 54th birthday of Mary Wilson, the longest-standing original member of

legendary Motown group the Supremes. The Supremes were one of the defining pop

groups of the '60s, releasing such classics as "Stop! In The

Name of Love," "I Hear a Symphony" and "You Can't Hurry Love," among

others. Born in Greenville, Miss., Wilson first met Diana Ross and Florence

Ballard when the three of them were growing up in the Brewster housing

project in Detroit. They began singing together with Betty McGlown (and

later with Barbara Martin) as teens. In 1959, the quartet formed a group called

the Primettes, a "sister group" to the Primes, an all-male group that featured future

Temptations members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. At that time, the

more soulful sounding Ballard was considered the lead singer, and the group

quickly made a name for itself around Detroit, catching the attention

of Smokey Robinson, who arranged for a Motown audition. Motown

head-honcho Berry Gordy Jr. considered the then-still-in-high-school singers

too young for a deal of their own but allowed them to sing backup on some

songs. In 1961, Gordy signed the group, and the Primettes changed their name to the Supremes at Ballard's suggestion, losing Martin in the process. The Supremes then

started down a road that would make them modern music legends. It took

three years of working on choreography and releasing a series of go-nowhere

albums until the legendary songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland was

brought onboard; the hits soon started rolling in. "Where Did Our

Love Go?" (1964) was the Supremes' first #1 song, with "Baby Love" and "Come See About Me" following suit before the end of the year.

The mid- to late '60s found the group constantly touring while remaining

high on the pop and R&B charts with such singles as "Back in My Arms

Again," "Love is Here and Now You're Gone" and "The Happening," among

others. The Supremes also started to become regulars on televised variety

shows and dinner theaters, playing venues that no other R&B group would be

able to play at the height of the civil rights movement. Ballard left the

group in 1967; she had missed numerous shows and not been able to maintain

the Supremes' glamorous image due to problems with alcohol. She was

replaced by Cindy Birdsong, but Holland-Dozier-Holland had

also left Motown by this time, and the Supremes' success began to founder. Ross left the

group in 1970, leaving Wilson as the only original member left in the lineup. The Supremes soldiered on with Jean Terrell replacing Ross, scoring hits in 1970 with "Up the Ladder to the Roof," "Stoned Love" and "River Deep-Mountain High." But without Ross, Gordy's guidance and the songs of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the

group was unsuccessful. Wilson tried to establish a solo career but

met up with the same response from audiences and critics. The Supremes

officially broke up in 1977, but Wilson continued to tour under their

moniker for years. In 1986, she published a tell-all autobiography,

"Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme" and then published a follow-up

entitled "Supreme Faith." Wilson reunited with Ross and Birdsong in

1983 for the "Motown 25" TV special but was upstaged when Ross pushed the

microphone away from her mouth. The Supremes were inducted into the Rock

and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Other birthdays: Sylvia Robinson (Mickey and Sylvia), 62; David Gilmour

(Pink Floyd), 54; and Hugh Grundy (the Zombies), 53.