Mary Wilson interview: Supremes legend talks Motown at 60, The Beatles and inspiring millions

28 August 2019, 15:29

This year, Motown celebrates its 60th birthday, and its music still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did the first time around.

To mark the milestone and the release of the new documentary Hitsville USA, Gold caught up with Supremes legend Mary Wilson for a chat about all things Motown and its ongoing legacy.

Watch the full interview above.

"The music has lasted, it’s still fresh," Mary told us. "I can listen to some of The Temptations’ music, and it sounds as good today as it did 45 years ago. Which is amazing.

"Motown music still has a current sound to it, which is really wonderful. And it’s great to be a part of it."

Talking about how The Supremes first found their success, Mary said: "There were lots of girl groups out there that we actually grew up listening to. We had The Shirelles. You had The Chantels, The Bobbettes. There were lots of girl groups.

"But I think what happened was, TV had really come into play. So we started being on TV more than anyone else. We got a lot of exposure, and that gave us a running start to be out front."

Berry Gordy Jr and the Supremes in 1965
Berry Gordy Jr and the Supremes in 1965. Picture: Getty

On how the group managed to break down gender barriers of the 1960s, she said: "Our biggest thing was that we had this sort of divide, the racial divide, in America, where black people, per se, were not, you know, considered citizens.

"But then, of course, the girl situation, the female… I think we did help that in terms of girls now— females now being as important as males. But all that was changing. The world was changing then. It’s almost kind of like what’s going on now. You do have this great divide. Back then, we had the great divide.

"But TV brought a lot of people together. The Ed Sullivan Show in the States. Here, Top of the Pops. You had Ready Steady Go! You had all these shows.

Mary Wilson
Mary Wilson. Picture: Gold/Global

"And then the rock ‘n’ roll groups and teenagers and all were coming on these shows, and people were beginning to change their attitude because of, I think, the music and icons that were coming out at the time. But in the States, it was more than gender. It was more about the racial situation."

Explaining how Motown was important during the Civil Rights Movement of the era, Mary said: "Well, it was part of it. You had your Lena Hornes, who were crusading, and Martin Luther King crusading. All these people were doing it in certain areas.

"But we all were involved in it, because we all were black. So we had a voice. You see it now. Even actors and singers now, they’re going out, and they’re talking politically about things. It’s the same thing that was happening back then. But it was new.

"Something that had not been happening before, and it was young people speaking up. So I think every generation and every decade, you have that sort of change.

"We began to importance upon our position, and what we could do, and to help bring about change, as well as making our music. Because our voices now were recognised as something that could help whatever cause what out there."

The Supremes with Paul McCartney
The Supremes with Paul McCartney. Picture: Getty

Mary also spoke about The Supremes' friendly rivalry with The Beatles at the height of their fame, saying: "I didn’t really think about it much then, but sometimes they would be number two, and we would be number one. Sometimes they were number one, we were number two.

"So we did have this thing going on. It was never really, as you said, a competition between us. Maybe our producers and all. I think they may have said, 'Oh, boy, this female group is number one. We better get another hit record out there.'.

"We met The Beatles, I think at a club here called Annabel’s, in late ’64, the first time we came over. Briefly, you know, at the club. It wasn’t much.

We met them more in New York, the first time they did the concert at Shae Stadium, whenever that was. I think that was ’65, when we really met them."

Hitsville USA hits UK cinemas on October 4 - watch the trailer below. Mary Wilson's new book Supreme Glamour is available now.

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