Mary Wilson of The Supremes recently returned to Blues Alley for a weekend of performances. K Street Magazine caught up with the renowned talent, a once-upon-a-time resident of Washington, as she remembered performing in places rich with history, like the Apollo and Blues Valley, back when she was still singing with MoTown’s most successful vocal group.
Back at Blues Alley, she was “looking forward to singing her all-time favorite song, ‘Here’s to Life.’ I’m also looking forward to singing a song I feel is very timely, ‘Strange Fruit.'” But “Don’t worry,” she adds with a laugh, “I’ll still be singing The Supremes’ favorites for our fans!”
About what it meant for her to be back in DC, her success as America’s first crossover group, and the state of our country today were some of our session’s more serious topics:
KSM: With movies like Hidden Figures, America is finally starting to shine light on the contributions of black women that resulted in our country’s progress. Do you see any barriers to this in the future and is there a tactic to keep this trend moving forward?
Wilson: That is one of the reasons why I am pushing to get The Supremes represented at the Afro-American museum. That is one way of moving it forward because I still think that women are not looked upon as movers and shakers.
(Wilson noted earlier in the interview that she has offered some the Supremes’ gowns to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is hoping the Supremes will be recognized in the museum for the bridges they built during civil rights movement.)
Wilson: That’s also one of the reasons I wanted my girl Hillary to win… Because she is a woman. It shouldn’t be ‘Behind every great Man there is a great Woman.’ I think that women need to be up front. I am still pushing for women’s rights.
KSM: Is there a responsibility on current artists to push a political agenda or do you think there should be separation between performance and politics?
Wilson: I don’t think there should be separation, because everyone has the right to speak their word. Entertainers get the ears of people, so we should watch what we say because people will listen. I think The Supremes were the type of entertainers that were very helpful for the movement because we had a very clean sort of look. It helped people to become a part of the American movement of coming together because people were not afraid. Sometimes when you’re afraid of something, you repel it. But it takes all types for a movement.
Wilson: We used to march back in the 60s. Maybe people need to get out there and march now! I loved the Women’s March, I was really trying to be a part of it, but I had something I couldn’t move around… I thought that was very powerful. We need to start speaking up, we can’t sit back and just let things happen any longer.
KSM: Co-Chair Tamika Mallory’s speech at the Women’s March was really striking. She reminded the crowd that being pro-women and pro-black were intertwined. As a black woman, she addressed the crowd and said ‘Welcome to my world, welcome to our world. If you thought America has always been here for its’ people, it hasn’t been.’ This might have been a reality check for people. Marching was a strategy from the playbook of people like John Lewis and yourself. Now with this reoccurrence, perhaps we can hope for needed conversations and change for all women.
Wilson: Absolutely and I agree. Those who have an opinion should step forward! Back in the day, we use to march with John Lewis and Rev. Jessie Jackson. We were out there with all of them during that time. It was a wonderful feeling to be part of history and to help make history. Even if you are one small part, just to have been there was important. I think that right now this is what is kind of happening. The darkness is before everything changes. We have to all decide. I think the universe is saying, ‘Stand in the right line and be conscious.’
KSM: In your opinion, what aspects of your book (Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme) made it a best seller?
Wilson: I kept diaries from the time I was 17 years old, when we first started singing, so I was able to really write there in the moment. I captured things while they were happening. I think that’s the most important thing about it. It’s from my perspective and it’s very honest. I’m sure there are people that might disagree, but that’s just the way it is. We are told, as black people, we need to write our own histories, so I wrote my history.
We love that. Black history is not just one month, it is every month. It’s important that people like Mary Wilson sing out supremely… speaking their truth and having these things published. It allows everyone to have access to different perspectives needed to think critically.
Wilson performed at Blues Alley in Washington D.C. on February 16 -19th. She still performs with the same passion as she did singing with the original Supremes.