Motown legend shares soul with students

Mary Wilson of The Supremes speaks to students at Queensland Conservatorium

Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes, has shared tales from her life as part of one of the world’s most famous female trios with students from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University.

Visiting Brisbane to perform at the Queensland Cabaret Festival, Ms Wilson delighted 100 students at the South Bank campus with her insight into the industry, her keys to success and the story of how The Supremes got their start.

She vividly described the day that she, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard heard producers desperately looking for background singers.

“One day producers came out and said, ‘we have no hand clappers, we need some hand clappers and some background’, so right away we said ‘we’ll do it’!” Ms Wilson said.

“So, we were in the right place at the right time and we got signed to Motown Records. We were just 16 years old.

“At Motown, when we were first signed, The Supremes were jokingly referred to as the “no-hit Supremes.”

“It wasn’t until we released the single “Where Did Our Love Go,” in 1964 that we finally reached number one on the U.S. charts.”

Zanggroep The Supremes in Hilton-hotel aan pers voorgesteld, v.l.n.r. Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson en Diana Ross *30 september 1965
Zanggroep, The Supremes at the Hilton Hotel (aan pers voorgesteld), v.l.n.r. Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, 30 September 1965.

Ms Wilson next emphasised the need for perseverance to achieve goals, despite obstacles and adversities.

“Some may say I’m too fat, or I’m too skinny, or back then our excuse could have been that we were black and they’re not going to choose us for anything,” Ms Wilson said.

“But we decided to dare to dream regardless of the circumstances around us.

“And believe me it was really an impossible dream because back then black people were not considered citizens.

“So here’s what I truly believe – people should dare to dream and dare to dream in spite of anything.”

The Supremes performing at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, 19 January 1969.

The Supremes are noted as Billboard’s number one girl group of all time, having recorded 12 No.1 hits from 1964 to 1969.

Professor Scott Harrison, Director of Queensland Conservatorium, said the visit from such a legend of the Motown world was an absolute highlight for the students.

“Mary enthralled us with stories from her career with The Supremes, and stories of others from the Motown label such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations,” he said.

“She absolutely had the students agog with enthusiasm and had them right in the palm of her hand!”

According to Professor Harrison, such a visit forms part of an ongoing commitment to ensure students receive access to international artists of the highest calibre.

“This year alone, along with Mary Wilson, we’ve welcomed Maestro Johannes Fritsch and a number of musical theatre practitioners from London to work with our students,” he said.

“Bringing a wide range of visiting artists to campus each year ensures international perspective is part of the learning environment that students experience.”

The_Supremes_1967 (1)
The Supremes in 1967. From left-Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong.

Ms Wilson ended her visit by sharing her personal and heartfelt secrets for success.

“As long as you’re happy inside and there’s love inside, it’s there for everyone to see,” Ms Wilson said.

“It’s a wonderful joy so keep it, use it and share it — and remember that dreams do come true.

“It’s up to you to make them come true so don’t let anyone take them away from you no matter what.

“So dare to dream, because dreams do come true.”