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In Memoriam: Former Supreme Mary Wilson Leaves Legacy of Black Pride and Resilience

Gordy expressed his sadness over Wilson’s death. “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown,’” Gordy said. “Wilson, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s. After an unprecedented string of No. 1 hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others.”

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Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson, a co-founder of the best-selling girl group the Supremes, died in her sleep early Tuesday at her home in Las Vegas, Nev. She was 76.

A singer, best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, mother, and grandmother, the legendary Wilson made great strides on her inevitable journey to greatness.

As an original/founding member of The Supremes, she changed the face of popular music to become a trendsetter who broke down social, racial, and gender barriers, which all started with the wild success of their first No. 1 song in 1963.

With her childhood friend Florence Ballard and lead singer Diana Ross, the Supremes achieved an unprecedented 12 No.1 hits in the mid-1960s and became international superstars by 1964 on the Motown record label, started just a few years before by Berry Gordy.

Gordy expressed his sadness over Wilson’s death. “The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown,’” Gordy said. “Wilson, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, came to Motown in the early 1960s. After an unprecedented string of No. 1 hits, television and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others.”

Born in Greenville, Miss., on March 6, 1944, Wilson moved North with her family ending up in Detroit, Wis., where Berry Gordy’s Motown record label was just warming up.

She was a school friend of Ballard, who invited her to audition for the Primettes, a sister group to a boys’ trio called the Primes.

Wilson was accepted and she and Ballard would be joined by Diana Ross and Betty McGlown. By 1962, they were a trio and their first hit – “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” — came the following year.

“Where Did Our Love Go?” became their first song to reach No. 1 on the pop charts and a string of hits followed making them international superstars by 1964.

With the Supremes, Wilson achieved an unprecedented 12 No.1 hits, with five of them consecutive from 1964-65. Those songs are “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again,” according to Billboard Magazine.

But all was not well. In 1967, Gordy decided to change their name to Diana Ross and the Supremes and Ballard decided to leave the group. Many years later, Wilson would express her disappointment and stick up for her friend, lobbying for a U.S. postage stamp with Ballard’s image.

“People forget that Florence Ballard not only gave us our name, but she formed the group,” Wilson revealed on “Fiyah!” a program sponsored by the Black Press of America.

“It was really Flo who formed us, and I want people to know that. I am putting together a program to get Florence Ballard a U.S. stamp, hopefully, so I want people to send their request and say something about Florence” Wilson said of her friend who died of a heart attack in 1976.     “All those hits were Florence, so when you are  listening to [The Supremes], it’s about Flo, so I want people who listen to those songs that bring back memories, think about Flo.”

Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong and the group continued to perform until 1970 when Ross would leave the group for a solo career in 1970. The group continued to have hits like “Stoned Love” in 1970.

By the mid-1970s, Wilson was doing half of the Supremes’ lead vocals but she left the group in 1977.

Nearly a decade later, Wilson found success in writing her memoirs: “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” in 1986 and “Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together” in 1990.

She became a frequent guest on TV talk shows and performed regularly in Las Vegas casinos and resorts.

Colin Powell named her a cross-cultural ambassador in 2002 and she appeared at events sponsored by the State Dept.

Wilson released CDs in 2006 and 2010, while also becoming a musical activist, going to court to prevent impostors from performing under the names of groups from the 1950s and ‘60s, including the Motown group the Marvelettes as well as the Supremes. The law was passed in 27 states.

She lectured all over the world giving advice on reaching goals and triumphing over adversity and became known for her charity work with the American Cancers Society, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the NAACP among others, including the Figure Skaters of Harlem, which encourages youth gain entry to the Olympics.

In 2019, Wilson appeared in a “Dancing With the Stars” segment and published “Supreme Glamour,” an appreciation of the fashion the Supremes wore on stage. A collection of the gowns has been on exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, since 2008.

With the Supremes, Wilson was inducted into the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2013 and received a lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2020.

Wilson married Pedro Ferrer in 1974 and the couple had three children: Turkessa, Pedro Antonio and Rafael. She and Ferrer divorced in 1981. In 1994, Rafael was killed in a car accident.

“Ms. Wilson used her fame and flair to promote a diversity of humanitarian efforts, including ending hunger, raising HIV/AIDS awareness, and encouraging world peace. Mary was working on getting a U.S. postage stamp of her fellow bandmate and original Supreme Florence Ballard who passed away in 1976,” longtime publicist and friend Jay Schwartz said.

She was working on new projects for 2021, including an album she recently teased on her YouTube channel. Her primary love was preserving the legacy of the Supremes and introducing her music to new generations.

“I think that The Supremes had a lot to do with the awakening of the world in terms of what blackness was,” Wilson said in her 2020 NNPA interview. “The whole world was watching Black people in a way they’d never seen.”

Wikipedia, Stacy Brown/NNPA contributed to this report.

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Art

Marin Fair Competitive Exhibits Open for Entry

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

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Marin County Fair “So Happy Together!” returns June 30-July 4

Courtesy of Marin County

2022 Marin County Fair Poster depicting a variety of farm animals with the Marin County Civic Center and Marin Fairgrounds property in the background. San Rafael, California — With Marin County Fair’s June 30 opening day just around the corner, the Competitive Exhibits categories for the 2022 Fair are now available on the Fair’s website MarinFair.org.

The competitive exhibit program, which usually takes place indoors, will remain online for one more year and will include competitions such as fine art and photography, decorated cakes and cookies, wine and beer label design, clothing and textiles, cartoon art, exceptional art, poetry and creative writing, hobbies and crafts, and more. The Plein Air painting competition on the first day of the Fair will take place outdoors. The agriculture competitions will remain outdoors and will include poultry, rabbits, sheep dog trials, pocket pets, dog care and training, and small animal round robin showmanship, to name a few.

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

The full list of categories and entry guidelines is available online at MarinFair.org. Submissions will be accepted from May 6 to May 31 and winners will be announced online during Fair time.

The 2022 fair will also focus on outdoor entertainment including the headline concerts, performers roaming the grounds such as jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt walkers, and interactive art experiences for fans of all ages. Returning fair favorites will include traditional carnival rides, the Global Marketplace, the Barnyard, food and drinks, and fireworks every night over the Civic Center’s Lagoon Park.

Early bird tickets sold out within one day of release. Discounted Fair tickets are still available for adults and teens through June 29. The Fair is a one-price gate featuring 28 carnival rides, exciting exhibits, spectacular firework displays, first-rate concerts and exciting attractions are FREE with gate admission. Tickets are available online only at MarinFair.org.

Headline concerts will soon be announced, and reserved gold circle tickets will go on sale May 16. Reserved concert seating in a special section is $60 per person and includes Fair admission.

Special Admission Days:
Kids Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Children 12 and under are FREE on Thursday, June 30.
Senior Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Seniors 65+ are admitted FREE

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Activism

Installation Invoking Black Struggle for Justice in Opens May 14 at Oakland City Hall

Society’s Cage is an open air, accessible pavilion featuring 500 hanging steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism. This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial biases within our institutional structures of justice and allows for moments of reflection and healing. 

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Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
View of ‘Society’s Cage,’ an immersive exhibit at Oakland City Hall. Photo courtesy of the organizers.

By Randolph Belle

A traveling exhibit that invokes the history of repression of Blacks in the United States arrived in Oakland for installation this week at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Support Oakland Artists, an Oakland based 501(C)3, partnered with Society’s Cage to bring the acclaimed social justice art installation as a feature in front of Oakland City Hall from May 9-30, 2022.

Society’s Cage is an open air, accessible pavilion featuring 500 hanging steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism.

This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial biases within our institutional structures of justice and allows for moments of reflection and healing.

The designers, Dayton Schroeter, Julian Arrington, Monteil Crawley and Ivan O’Garro, created the installation to contextualize the contemporary phenomenon of police killings of Black Americans within the 400+ year continuum of racialized state violence in the United States.

It is a data-driven installation shaped in response to the question “What is the value of Black life in America?”

The Oakland installation will be the first on the West Coast as it travels nationally to sites of symbolic power related to justice, freedom & democracy. Originating in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall in response to the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Society’s Cage has continued its journey as an interpretive lens highlighting the historic forces of racialized state violence in the United States.

Other sites have included War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore, Maryland, and the site of the Vernon AME Chapel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race massacre and destruction of the Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street.

Oakland is an ideal host site for the installation as the home of the Black Panther Party, which was founded to combat the legacy of police oppression, inequitable incarceration practices, and remnants of slavery in the form of state-sponsored terrorism against Black people.

In 2009, the killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old, unarmed Black transit rider by the BART police in Oakland set off local and regional organized protests that catalyzed a national movement.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“We were inspired to create the installation as a response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” explains Dayton Schroeter, lead designer of Society’s Cage and design director at SmithGroup, which has offices in San Francisco. “The pavilion is a real and raw reflection of the conversations about racism happening now. It’s a physical manifestation of the institutional structures that have undermined the progress of Black Americans over the history of this country.

“The name Society’s Cage refers to the societal constraints that limit the prosperity of the Black community,” says Julian Arrington, who led the design with Schroeter, and is an associate at SmithGroup. “The pavilion creates an experience to help visitors understand and acknowledge these impacts of racism and be moved to create change.”

 

 

 

“It only took an instant for me to commit to this project,” said Randolph Belle, executive director of Support Oakland Artists. “In my over 30 years in Oakland as an artist and community developer, I’ve strived to utilize the arts to engage the public in thoughtful ways around important and timely topics. This project, this site, and these times are an unprecedented example of that.”

Visitors are encouraged to participate in a shared experience upon entering the pavilion. After holding their breath for as long as they can, evoking the common plea among victims of police killings, “I can’t breathe,” visitors then post a video reflection of their experience on social media using the hashtag #SocietysCage. This exercise is meant not only to build empathy but expand the installation’s impact online to allow anyone to participate in this shared exercise.

The pavilion was fabricated by Gronning Design + Manufacturing LLC in Washington, D.C., and Mejia Ironworks in Hyattsville, Maryland. A soundscape was commissioned from a pair of composers, Raney Antoine Jr. and Lovell “U-P” Cooper.

Comprised of four pieces, each eight minutes and 46 seconds in length in recognition of the time George Floyd suffered under the knee of police, they are themed to reflect each of the four institutional forces that sculpted the pavilion’s interior — mass incarceration, police terrorism, capital punishment and racist lynchings.

Early sponsors who have made the hosting of the Society’s Cage Oakland installation possible include the Akonadi Foundation, Tarbell Family Foundation, individual sponsors including principals from SmithGroup’s San Francisco office, corporate sponsorship including SmithGroup and many community partners including BIG Oakland.

Jeremy Crandall and Emax Exhibits were the Oakland Installation team.

A public unveiling is scheduled for Saturday, May 14, 2022, at 11 a.m., and a programmed event featuring local cultural artists is scheduled for Sunday, May 29, 2022, at 7 p.m. Participating individuals and organizations include original members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Cultural Zone, HipHopTV, and a host of local artists.

For more information, visit www.societyscage.com to find a link to the donation site. Additional donations will assist with programming and documentation related to the Oakland activation.

Randolph Belle is the executive director of Support Oakland Artists and RBA Creative studio in Oakland.

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Arts and Culture

Four Seasons Arts Honors Founder Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams with Annual Concert

Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams was one of the first African American presenters of a major classical music concert series in the United States. Dr. Williams presented artists of all races and organized racially diverse audiences, and for over 40-plus years in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, he introduced to the world some of the finest musicians of our time.

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Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet is a well-known performer, teacher and scholar. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist and orchestra collaborator and is a sought-after guest lecturer and adjudicator.
Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet is a well-known performer, teacher and scholar. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist and orchestra collaborator and is a sought-after guest lecturer and adjudicator.

On Saturday, May 7 at 3 p.m., Four Seasons Arts will honor Founder Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams with a piano recital by Dr. Rochelle Sennet. The concert takes place at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Ave. in Berkeley.

Sennet’s May 7 program, entitled “Bach to Black,” features two Partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Four Dances for Boris” by African-American composer Jeffrey Mumford (b. 1955) and “In the Bottoms” Suite by African-American composer R. Nathaniel Dett.

Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams led the concert organization from its beginning in 1958 until his death in 1999, and it is because of his vision that the concert series continues.

Dr. Williams was one of the first African American presenters of a major classical music concert series in the United States. Dr. Williams presented artists of all races and organized racially diverse audiences, and for over 40-plus years in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, he introduced to the world some of the finest musicians of our time.

Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet is a well-known performer, teacher and scholar. She has performed throughout the world as a soloist and orchestra collaborator and is a sought-after guest lecturer and adjudicator.

Free tickets to this event are available by emailing fsa.info@fsarts.org, calling 510-845-4444 or clicking the “Get Free Tickets” button at www.fsarts.org/2022-founders-concert/.

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