Mary Wilson 'so excited' to be coming home

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Motown legend Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, will perform Friday through Sunday with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Detroit News caught up with the 72-year-old Las Vegas resident, who grew up in Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass projects, shortly after her arrival in her hometown.

How does it feel to be back in Detroit?

Oh, I was so excited to be coming home — you know, local-girl-made-good coming home to do a concert with the DSO. I wanted to blast it to the world!

What will you be performing?

Obviously, many of the Supremes’ songs — maybe 10 to 12. And then I also love to do big ballads by other people. Sometimes I do a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, but I don’t think I’ll do that this time, so I’ll have to come back for that show.

Have you ever sung with the DSO before?

Never. This is my first time. I’m extremely happy about it.

Do you like singing with an orchestra behind you?

Of course — back in the day when we were recording, a lot of those were done with a symphony. And we did TV shows that had big orchestras like Ed Sullivan. It always makes the music sound so plush.

You’ve been performing for almost 60 years. Do you still like it?

I absolutely adore it. Yesterday I was in Columbus as the guest of the president of Ohio State University and had an opportunity to do master classes with students there. One of the main questions — and these were all 18 or 19-year-olds — was “Do you still enjoy it?”

When did you first meet fellow Supremes Diana Ross and Florence Ballard?

When we were like 12 or 13. I felt I’d met the other parts of myself. They brought out certain things, and I felt so complete when I was with Flo and Diane. They were like two extremes, and I was in the middle. Both were extremely strong. And Flo was such a strong singer. In backing vocals, I always followed her because she had the strength and the style.

What was your favorite Motown girl group?

The Supremes! (She laughs.) What did you expect? We always knew we were good, though for a while they called us the “no-hit Supremes.” We were the first Motown girl group, but we were the last to have a hit record.

What other women did you admire?

I especially love Martha and the Vandellas. We always wanted to be the Vandellas, because they were soulful, and the Supremes were sort of bubble-gum music.

And your favorite male groups?

Well, just to pick one is unfair. Obviously Marvin Gaye is one of the greatest artists of our time. “What’s Going On” should be nominated as song as the century. Marvin was so creative — and the coolest, nicest human being you ever wanted to meet. But of course, Stevie Wonder’s also great, and so are the Four Tops and the Temptations.

What music did you like as a child?

Growing up in Detroit was very special because I grew up listening to jazz. This was a jazz town then. To this day, I still love Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson and Shirley Horn. That’s basically what I still listen to. Well, and of course, Gladys Knight and the Pips.

What’s the question you always get asked that you hate?

Well, I don’t really hate anything. But it’s hard to answer whether there will be a reunion of the Supremes, because I don’t have an answer for it. But I don’t mind the question, because it means people like what we contributed.

Finally, how do you keep looking so great?

(She laughs.) That’s a wonderful question! I say thank-you a lot to God. Gratitude is definitely key. And if I still do look good, I think it’s because I have a good heart. It comes from inside.

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‘Mary Wilson at the DSO’

Max M. Fisher Music Center

3711 Woodward, Detroit

10:45 a.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $19-$100

(313) 576-5111

dso.org