Wilson Says It's No Supremes Without Her

Diana Ross, group's lead singer, says she wishes fellow founding member had been able to join her tour.

Singer Diana Ross said her tour with replacement members of the Supremes isn't about the names on the bill and that it doesn't matter that founding member Mary Wilson and longtime member Cindy Birdsong won't be sharing the stage with her.

"The tour's not about me. It's not about the individuals," Ross, 56, said at a press conference Tuesday in New York. "It's really about the music and about what we represented and still represent in music as far as image and possibility."

But Wilson said that if she's not on the tour, it's not really a Supremes tour.

"If there's going to be a reunion, I'd have to be in it," Wilson said from her dressing room at St. David's Hall in Wales, where she performed Tuesday in a Motown revue. The show, billed as "Dancing in the Streets," also features "War" singer Edwin Starr and Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

The tour, which opens June 14 in Philadelphia, is being billed as Diana Ross and the Supremes. Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne, who joined the group in 1972, will sing with Ross. Wilson left the group in 1976, while Payne, Laurence and other singers continued to tour billed as the Former Ladies of the Supremes.

"I never even considered it to be a reunion tour," said Ross, who wore a metallic pink leather outfit and black T-shirt at the press conference. Ross said she was planning a solo tour, and it was suggested that she bring the Supremes along.

Wilson, 55, said she had heard rumors of a possible reunion as early as the beginning of 1999, but she said Ross didn't approach her until December. At that point, Wilson said, she thought the two of them needed to "talk things over" before she committed to the reunion. She said Ross wanted "to do the business first."

"If Paul McCartney was going to put the Beatles back together, I don't think he'd wait a year to call George [Harrison] and Ringo [Starr]," Wilson said. "Possibly, I wasn't even really wanted on the tour."

Ross said she wishes Wilson had been able to join her. "I made the initial call to her to be here," she said. "I would have been honored to be onstage with all of the Supremes." She said all seven other singers who've been members of the group since its inception were offered slots on the tour.

Birdsong replaced the other founding member, Florence Ballard, in 1967. Ballard was dismissed from the group after missing concerts, and she died of cardiac arrest in 1976 at age 32. The Supremes originated with four members, including founding member Betty Travis. Travis left in 1960 and was replaced by Barbara Martin, who soon left the group.

"Change has been a part of the Supremes from the beginning," Ross said.

Wilson claimed she was offered $2 million to join the tour, out of a total talent fee budget of $15 million to $20 million. During the press conference, tour promoter Arthur Fogel of TNA International disputed Wilson's assertions, though he declined to discuss the money involved.

Through a spokesperson, TNA President Michael Cohl said the Toronto concert promotion firm does not discuss dollar amounts regarding tours. "This is meant to be a celebration of the Supremes, and the ladies who are singing with Diana have sung with the Supremes for 25 years," the spokesperson said.

Laurence said at the press conference that she is proud to be a member of a group that "was, and still is, an incredible image for young people."

The TNA spokesperson said she didn't think the absence of Wilson and Birdsong would hurt ticket sales. Mark Hogarth, the U.S. representative for the International Diana Ross Fan Club, said he plans to go to at least one show.

"Deep down inside, I'm disappointed it's not going to be with Mary and Cindy," Hogarth said from his Arlington, Va., home. "But I disagree with Mary that it's not really a Supremes tour without her. She's not the housekeeper of the Supremes name."

The Ross-Wilson-Ballard lineup recorded a string of hits in the '60s, including "Stop! In the Name of Love." Ross was the only Supreme singing on the group's last #1 pop and R&B hit, "Someday We'll Be Together" (RealAudio excerpt). It was also the last song Ross recorded with the group before she left in 1970.

Tickets for some shows will go on sale next week, according to Fogel. Ross said she's contacted songwriters Denise Rich, Diane Warren and Luther Vandross about writing a song called "Return to Love" to serve as the tour's theme.

Diana Ross and the Supremes tour dates:

June 14; Philadelphia, Pa.; First Union Spectrum

June 16; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Mellon Arena

June 17; Cleveland, Ohio; Gund Arena

June 19; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Palace of Auburn Hills

June 22; Atlanta, Ga.; Philips Arena

June 24; Tampa, Fla.; Ice Palace

June 25; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; National Car Rental Center

June 28; Houston, Texas; Compaq Center

June 29; Dallas, Texas; Reunion Arena

July 1; Chicago, Ill.; Allstate Arena

July 4; Toronto, Ontario; Air Canada Centre

July 6; New York, N.Y.; Madison Square Garden

July 9; Washington, D.C.; MCI Center

July 12; Hartford, Conn.; Hartford Civic Center

July 13; Boston, Mass.; FleetCenter

July 17; St. Louis, Mo.; Kiel Center

July 19; Minneapolis, Minn.; Target Center

July 21; Denver, Colo.; Pepsi Center

July 24; Seattle, Wash.; Key Arena

July 28; San Jose, Calif.; San Jose Arena

July 31; Phoenix, Ariz.; America West Arena

Aug. 3; Anaheim, Calif.; Arrowhead Pond

Aug. 5; Las Vegas, Nev.; MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

(Staff Writer Christopher O'Connor contributed to this report.)

(This story was updated with additional reporting at 11:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, April 4, 2000.)