Singer Mary Wilsona founding member of the iconic group The Supremescontinues her career, performing live and bringing a festive show to Chicago this holiday season.
She is the only member of The Supremes to stay with the group in all its incarnations, and was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard.
Wilson wrote two booksDreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme and Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together.
Windy City Times talked with Wilson at her hotel to find out more about the legacy that this artist continues to maintain.
Windy City Times: Hello, Mary. I read that you lived in Chicago in the past.
Mary Wilson: When I was an infant with the whole migration of Blacks from the South to the North, this was one of the first cities that my family moved to. Then I went on to Detroit, where I grew up. I probably spent about two years here in Chicago. I have had family here ever since so I have been coming here for years.
WCT: Where do you reside now?
Mary Wilson: I'm in Las Vegas now.
WCT: Have you ever taken a break from performing?
Mary Wilson: I am 69 years old now and have been performing since 1963, pretty much constantly. I love it. We end up having vacations when we go to some of these places so I am all over the place. Just recently I was in Europe performing with Bill Wyman. We had a ball. We went to Switzerland.
WCT: I just went there and was looking for Tina Turner! What did you think of Motown the Musical?
Mary Wilson: It was a long time coming. Mr. [Berry] Gordy had been working on it for many years. The music and the whole legacy of Motownfor people who grew up in our erait was major. It was the soundtrack of our lives. When I went to the opening night on Broadway there were all kinds of people there and all ages. People were moving and grooving. It was so great. It is where it should be. I loved it.
There is a lot to go in there and very difficult to tell the story of Motown but the way they did it was good.
WCT: I saw a preview in Millennium Park here in Chicago; the cast member who played Michael Jackson was just incredible to watch.
Mary Wilson: Everybody loved him.
WCT: He nailed it.
Mary Wilson: It sounded like our record up there.
WCT: What was your opinion on Dreamgirls?
Mary Wilson: I loved it, but it is not the story of The Supremes. I sing "I Am Changing" in my show. People say Dreamgirls is about The Supremes but I know it is not because I didn't get paid! The thing is, when I was sitting there watching it on Broadway it was as if the person who had written it was right there with us. It was our story, which was kind of odd.
WCT: It must have been surreal.
Mary Wilson: It was and hit home. It was still beautifully done. I just wish they had paid me! [Laughs]
WCT: They got around that one.
Mary Wilson: They did, but it's okay.
WCT: You and Diana Ross have had such a big gay following over the years.
Mary Wilson: Sure. You have people like Cher, Supremes [and] Carol Burnett, where they love the female artists. I think it is because of the glamour and the showbiz aspect of it. We have had a gay following since we started making records, which was early on. [Gay fans] support us, but more than that they give us the adulation and accolades that a lot of people are not able to give. They really see all the magic and appreciate it. I think it is great. Hey, why not? [Both laugh.]
WCT: This gay man loves some Carol Burnett.
Mary Wilson: She is a hoot. We had the same dress designer, Michael Travis. He did loads of our gowns and hers as well. They were so heavily beaded. I saw someone on TV ask one time, "What happened to all the beads in the world?" and they responded, "Liberace and The Supremes got them all!" I thought that was so profound. Before Bob Mackie he did them allLiberace, Dionne Warwick and The Supremes at NBC.
WCT: Your gowns are always on tour, I read. So if you are not traveling, your gowns are!
Mary Wilson: Yes, they are in museums and traveling around the world.
WCT: Do you want to write more books?
Mary Wilson: My biggest dream is to write what I call a layman's psychology book. I can't do it until the final stages of my life. I want to sit and write the whole concept of how I view life. That is a big dream of mine.
People don't understand that you don't become an adult when you hit 21 years of age. You answer questions continuously, even though people think you know everything because you are famous. You are still learning. That is what I like about being an entertainer. We have such a quest for learning things and improving ourselves. This is the kind of medium where you do all kinds of things. If you are a normal person you wouldn't have that opportunity to search and become bigger than you are. You are exposed to so much and so many people as well.
WCT: How did this holiday show come together?
Mary Wilson: It just came about. All of my life I have been trying to grow and become a great entertainer.
I moved to Las Vegas in the late '80s to get my own show there because I had been traveling for so many years; I wanted to be in one place. I wanted to still work. I didn't want to stop working. A production company reached out to me and asked me to play The Venetian then told me about doing a Christmas show at the Harris. This all came up only three weeks ago.
WCT: So, all of a sudden.
Mary Wilson: Yes, and it was unexpected. It is a wonderful opportunity to work with The Four Tops, who I have always loved. They are one of my favorite groups in the world.
Duke Fakir from the group and I have been working together on this show. We have been friends since back in the early days. I recorded a top-10 hit with them, "River Deep Mountain High." We did [the album] The Return of the Magnificent Seven with The Four Tops and the Temptations. So we have always worked together but this is the first time that I, Mary Wilson, have had a chance to headline and work with my guys. I am really happy about it.
WCT: You are still working on the set list but I heard some of the songs are ironed out.
Mary Wilson: Yeah, some of them but things change when you get into actual rehearsal. We want to do not just Christmas songs but more holiday and seasonal. Duke and I have always wanted to sing together so we want to do a couple of duets.
WCT: "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is a possibility?
Mary Wilson: That is one of the songs we are thinking about doing. But until you actually finish rehearsal will you know what ones will end up in the show. That is one of our favorites that we want to work on.
WCT: You will be performing some Supremes songs, I am sure.
Mary Wilson: Oh, yes. We will be doing some of the hits then doing some things together. I understand there will be a choir since it is a holiday show.
WCT: How do you normally celebrate the holidays?
Mary Wilson: I usually take off Christmas. That is the one holiday that I don't work. Sometimes I don't even work Thanksgiving either but New Years I try to always work. This time I will be working on Christmas, which is something very special. My grandchildren are all grown up now so I don't have that responsibility. I love spending time with them but now I can work whenever I want to.
WCT: Do you ever want to retire?
Mary Wilson: No, I don't think I ever will.
WCT: I thought since Tina Turner retired recently, maybe you would.
Mary Wilson: Heck, if I did as well at Tina then I could retire too! I am still growing.
WCT: Still changing...
Mary Wilson: I am still changingthat is a better way to put it. I really am. I had all those years as a Supreme, which were just wonderful, but since that time I have been trying for Mary Wilson to have her own legacy. I could retire but I want to continue my dream as Mary Wilson.
WCT: Part of the legacy is staying with The Supremes the entire run of the group. No one else did that.
Mary Wilson: I do have a few legacies. I am star in my own mind! I think Diana feels this way, too. You are always trying to feel a completion. Even though you have done many things, you still have a dream and it keeps going.
One of my very dear friends just retired: Nancy Wilson. I asked her how she could retire because she has a great voice and she said she just got tired of it. I don't think I will ever get tired of it. I want to keep working. To me that is the ideal way to go.
WCT: Well, it keeps you young. You look amazing.
Mary Wilson: There is something to that. There is always an inner child and that child still plays. In many jobs you can't play but with this one I can play and that keeps you young. I don't want to ever reach the stage where I can't play. I have matured though. At 69 and a half I think I have finally grown up!
It will be a Mary Christmas at the Harris Theatre, 205 E. Randolph St., when Mary Wilson's Holiday Spectacular Featuring Special Guests The Four Tops jingles Dec. 23-Jan. 5, 2014. Visit www.HarrisTheaterChicago.org or call 312-334-2419 for tickets.
For more on Mary, visit www.marywilson.com .