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Mary Wilson: You Can Hurry Hits

Supreme singer recalls how excitement fueled Motown's hitmaking machine

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spinner image The Supremes, Mary Wilson
At left, Mary Wilson (right) during her years with the Supremes. At right, Wilson performing a concert in her hometown of Detroit in 2012.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Paul Warner/Getty Images

Now 74, Mary Wilson lives in Los Angeles and still performs as a solo act. She has detailed her experiences as a Supreme in two memoirs, Dreamgirl and Supreme Faith: My Life As a Supreme. Some of those memories are difficult and sharp-edged, particularly those regarding the Supremes’ breakup and her charged relationship with Diana Ross. The following are edited excerpts from her conversation with AARP about Motown's 60th anniversary.

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On the breathless pace during the early days at “Hitsville USA” on Detroit’s West Grand Boulevard:

Doing things fast made it even more exciting. If someone got a hit, everyone would be ‘Let's get ‘em another one!’ We were having so much fun and that excitement was captured on all of the products. If you walked into the building at that time you could feel the energy, the excitement of being a part of it. People ask me if there was jealousy. You might have a little, but everyone was excited for everyone. It was, ‘Oh my God, did you see Little Stevie’s numbers?’ It was like you were walking into a Disneyland and we were all the rides. It was like machinery, but it was a happy, happy machinery. There was laughter.

On some surprising royal treatment when the Supremes toured Britain:

Princess Margaret did ask if I was wearing a wig. That did take me aback . That was in 1968. For me it was a little embarrassing because she said it so loudly. She was rude. You expect the most polite things from the royal family. She was a wild girl. She was not royal-like, let’s put it that way.

On time and perspective:

When you get older you see things differently and that does mellow some of the hurt. I’ve been over it a long time. There’s so many great things that happened. Life without Motown ... what? You get together at a reunion and you say, ‘Girl, what were we thinking?’ We’re not angry. I really enjoyed Motown. 

On her love for the Motor City:

I’m always in Detroit. I have family there. There’s a little renaissance; they’re rebuilding the city. I went back for a homecoming with Lily Tomlin. I wear my Native Detroiter T-shirt everywhere. People stop me and ask, ‘Is it coming back?’ I say, ‘Yes, of course.’

Life is great. I’ve managed to be happy through a lot of things. I guess that’s why I’m still here. At 74 years old, I am very happy.

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