Mary Wilson, the longest-reigning original member of The Supremes, has died aged 76.
- Wilson was with The Supremes from their founding as the Primettes in 1959 to their disbanding in 1977
- She became a New York Times bestselling author with both of her autobiographies
- The Supremes are credited with enabling other African American artists to find mainstream success
Wilson died at her home in Las Vegas on Monday night, publicist Jay Schwartz said.
The cause was not immediately clear.
The Supremes began in 1959 when Wilson, Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown formed a group called the Primettes, a sister act to the male group the Primes.
Barbara Martin replaced McGlown in 1960, a year before they joined the Motown record label and became The Supremes.
Martin left in early 1962, leaving Wilson, Ross and Ballard.
Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967 and died of a heart attack in 1976 at the age of 32.
Ross left to pursue a solo career in 1970 and Birdsong departed in 1972, but Wilson stayed through further line-up changes until 1977. After she left, the group officially disbanded.
The group’s first number one, million-selling song, Where Did Our Love Go, was released on June 17, 1964.
Touring at the time, Wilson said there was a moment when she realised they had a hit song.
“I remember that instead of going home on the bus, we flew,” she told The Associated Press in 2014.
“That was our first plane ride. We flew home. We had really hit big.”
The group also recorded the hit songs You Can’t Hurry Love, Up the Ladder to the Roof, and Stop! In the Name of Love.
In 1986, Wilson’s first autobiography, Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme, made her a New York Times best-selling author, as did her second memoir Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together in 1990.
The Supremes are America’s most successful vocal group with 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and they have been credited with making it possible for future African American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success.
“I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes,” said Motown founder Berry Gordy in a statement on Monday night, according to Variety.
“The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown’.”
In 1988, The Supremes were inducted into the Rock of and Roll Hall of Fame.