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The Supremes Were A Dream, And Mary Wilson Dreamt It

Mary Wilson (C)

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The Supremes Were A Dream, And Mary Wilson Dreamt It

The pop-soul vocal legends’ co-founder was the last original Supreme in the group—and the most devout believer in their original promise

GRAMMYs/Feb 10, 2021 - 07:13 am

The Supremes were still in high school when their star began to rise, and at the dawn of 1962, their co-founder, Mary Wilson, sat in a modern literature class pondering her relationship to others. For her final exam, she had to write an essay with a psychological bent. While addressing her chaotic childhood, Wilson inadvertently summed up her dynamic with the other Supremes—the wounded Florence Ballard and the dogged Diana Ross.

"I have developed a protective shell, which whenever I feel I may face a conflict, I draw into. Why? Is it because I subconsciously feel I might be snatched again?" Wilson wrote in her 1986 autobiography Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme. "I try to cover up my deficiency by developing a pleasing personality. Actually, underneath this, I am still a young and frightened girl."

Five years later in 1967, during a period where Ballard left the group in a tailspin, and Motown president Berry Gordy rebranded them Diana Ross and the Supremes, Wilson realized she was the last to hold onto the image of the group as a holistic triad. "I saw nine years of work and love and happiness fade away," she wrote. "The Supremes still stood in my mind as a dream from childhood, a wonderful dream that had come true. I believed The Supremes would last forever. Now I knew that even dreams that come true can change."

"With one look at Flo," she added, "I knew that dreams don’t die; people just stop dreaming."

Wilson went on to neither be a household name like Ross nor a tragic figure like Ballard, who wrestled with addiction until her 1976 death at only 32. Instead, she was the group’s nucleus, acting as a buffer between Ballard and Ross and soldiering on in their absences as the last original member. After The Supremes called it a day in 1977, she entered an inspiring second act, touring extensively, authoring books, stumping for artists’ trademark rights, and collaborating with the GRAMMY Museum on the Legends Of Motown: Celebrating The Supremes exhibit.



Tragically, two days after eagerly announcing new music on YouTube, Wilson died unexpectedly at her home in Henderson, Nevada on Feb. 8. She was 76. "I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes," Gordy said in a statement. "I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva and will be deeply missed."

Wilson’s journey to that burning, yearning dream—one of young infatuation on a Biblical scale—began on March 6, 1944, when she was born to a butcher father and homemaker mother in the sleepy town of Greenville, Mississippi. Hers was a long-delayed birth. "A little past midnight, I was finally born," she wrote in Dreamgirl. "I now wonder if my first appearance in life was somehow indicative of the path my life would later take. Even at my birth, I was a fence-sitter."

The family relocated from Saint Louis to Chicago before Wilson moved in with her aunt and uncle, Ivory "I.V." and John L. Pippin, who led her to believe they were her parents. When Wilson was six, she traumatically learned I.V. was, in fact, not her mother. "My whole world had been turned upside down," she wrote. "I'd trusted these people, and they had lied to me." Three years later, her father, Sam, lost his leg in a factory accident.

In 1956, with her birth parents in tow, Wilson moved to the Brewster Projects, a complex of government-owned apartment buildings. Despite the jarring change—and prevalent gang violence—Wilson viewed her new climes rosily. "It was quite crowded compared to suburbia, but I loved it," she wrote. "You had to learn to get along with all kinds of people." While auditioning to sing in a school talent show, a hurled insult from a classmate resulted in punches from Wilson.

"I was not a fighter," she wrote, "but I would fight to be part of a group."



One of the characters Wilson ran into in the projects was a young Diane Ross—she’d change it to "Diana" later. But she more immediately took to another neighbor, Florence Ballard, who she describes as a Hollywood-style beauty even then. After bonding over a shared love of singing—Ballard sang a mean "Ave Maria"—in early 1959, Milton Jenkins of the all-male vocal group The Primes approached her to form a female counterpart.

"Between her gasps for breath, I could see she was grinning from ear to ear," Wilson wrote. "She grabbed my arm and asked excitedly, ‘Mary, do you want to be in a singing group with me and two other girls—’ 'Yes!'  I replied before she even finished the question. It didn't occur to me to ask what the group was about, or who was in it, or anything." During a jittery rehearsal at The Primes’ bachelor pad, Wilson found herself next to Ballard, Ross, and a fourth girl, Betty McGlown. Their voices fell together effortlessly and gracefully. The Primettes were born.

With Jenkins as their manager, The Primettes pounded the pavement in local clubs until a series of connections—from Smokey Robinson to Gordy, who let them sing and clap on Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye recordings—led them to Hitsville, U.S.A.

Asked to come up with a new name, they pored over a list of them, suggestive of regality and class—The Royal-Tones, The Jewelettes. But the name Ballard settled on for the group telegraphed something else entirely: divinity.

As word of the Supremes extended outside town, Wilson noticed their similarities and differences more acutely. Ballard, who had survived a sexual assault by an acquaintance, had begun to psychologically fray. Meanwhile, Ross was pure quantum ambition.

"Flo, a Cancerian; Diane, an Aries; and me, a Pisces—three completely different, insecure people," Wilson explained. "What each of us saw in the other two were the parts of herself she lacked or couldn’t assert or tried to deny: Flo’s earthiness, my nice-guy demeanor, and Diane’s aggressive charm. We accidentally discovered that three separate, incomplete young girls combined to create one great woman. That was the Supremes."

"I saw the group as something bigger and more important than any one of us," she declared elsewhere in the book. "I was content to play on the team."



If the Supremes were a collective dream, the Supremes’ string of 1960s hits—most of them written by Motown's powerhouse Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team—have a dreamlike quality. These are universal songs you hear at cookouts and supermarkets and in Ubers; thus, they tend to drift between life stages and experiences. And of their twelve No. 1 hits, Wilson appeared on each.

The group received two GRAMMY nominations—one for Best R&B Recording for "Baby Love," the other for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Performance for "Stop! In the Name of Love." (In 1999, "Where Did Our Love Go" and "You Keep Me Hangin’ On" were added to the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, and in 2001, "Stop! In the Name of Love" followed suit.)

After Ballard left the band in 1967, Cindy Birdsong of Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles took her place, and they continued as Diana Ross and the Supremes. In 1970, Diana Ross left the band to start a solo career, leaving Wilson as the final original member amid a succession of replacement singers and shifting band names, like "The New Supremes." They never recaptured the commercial success they once enjoyed.

However, Wilson remained their North Star, touring tirelessly, practicing yoga, and authoring Dreamgirl and its 1990 sequel, Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together. Her legacy also involves musicians’ rights; after non-founding members of the Supremes toured under the band name, she campaigned on behalf of artists’ trademark ownership. Wilson also fought for higher pay for musicians on streaming sites through her support of the Music Modernization Act. Her 2019 coffee-table book Supreme Glamour homed in on the iconic group's fashion, compiling images of their famous gowns.

Last Saturday, she appeared on YouTube with a blazing grin, vivaciously announcing new music through Universal Music Group, hoping it would come out before her March 6 birthday. Then, in her sleep, she slipped away.

But her dream remains, as long as there are listeners to make it their own.



GRAMMY Museum Announces Reopening Of "Motown: The Sound Of Young America" Exhibit

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum
Ryan Lewis, Zach Quillen and Macklemore

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum

Hip-hop duo discuss their career beginnings and creating their GRAMMY-nominated album The Heist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Current seven-time GRAMMY nominees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, along with their manager Zach Quillen, recently participated in an installment of the GRAMMY Museum's A Conversation With series. Before an intimate audience at the Museum's Clive Davis Theater, the hip-hop duo and Quillen discussed the beginning of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' career, having creative control over their work and recording their GRAMMY-nominated Album Of The Year, The Heist.

"I met somebody [who] had the same dedication as me, [who] put everything into the music, everything into the craft," said Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) regarding meeting Lewis. "I wanted a career and Ryan was somebody [who] had the same discipline and sacrificed everything."

"I think it took a little while before it became clear to me who [Macklemore] was going to be," said Lewis. "I think the first indication of that was with the song 'Otherside' from the VS. Redux EP]. … That song … embodied so much. It was a story nobody was telling. … It was just somebody who was dying to be on the mike and to say something."

Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and DJ/producer Lewis have been making music fans take notice since they released their debut EP, 2009's The VS. EP. They followed with VS. Redux, which reached No. 7 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. The duo made waves in 2011 with the release of their hit single "Can't Hold Us" featuring Ray Dalton. The next year Macklemore was featured on the cover of XXL Magazine's coveted freshman class issue, and Rolling Stone dubbed the duo an "indie rags-to-riches" success story.

Released in 2012, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' debut studio album, The Heist, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the No. 1 hits "Can't Hold Us" and "Thrift Shop," the latter of which reached multi-platinum status and remained on top of the charts for six weeks. The album garnered a nomination for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album at the 56th GRAMMY Awards, while "Thrift Shop" earned a nod for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The duo's Top 20 hit "Same Love" featuring Mary Lambert earned a nomination for Song Of The Year and has been adopted by some as a pro-equality anthem. The duo garnered additional nominations for Best New Artist and Best Music Video for "Can't Hold Us."

Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include Icons Of The Music Industry: Ken Ehrlich (Jan. 14) and A Conversation With Peter Guralnick (Jan. 15).

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

2019 Music Festival Preview: Noise Pop, Coachella, Ultra & More

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Vevo Tops 1 Billion Views

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Vevo Tops 1 Billion Views
Music video site Vevo has totaled 1.1 billion views since its launch on Dec. 8, with 1.02 billion of those views coming via YouTube and approximately 88 million views coming via Vevo.com, according to a report by video tracking firm TubeMogul. As of Feb. 22, Vevo features more than 16,000 videos, including content from Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. EMI Music Group agreed to a licensing deal in December, but its content is not yet featured. Warner Music Group is the only major label not to reach an agreement with Vevo. (2/24)
 

Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

2020 GRAMMY Awards: Complete Nominees List