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Founding member of The Supremes, Mary Wilson, dead at 76

The R&B legend, and founding member of The Supremes, died Monday at the age of 76.

WASHINGTON — An enduring member of one of the most iconic musical acts in history, Mary Wilson, died at her home near Las Vegas Monday night. She was 76 years old.

Her death, sudden and unexpected, has brought with it a profound sadness to the musical world. In a statement filled with praise, Motown founder Barry Gordy called her a trailblazer. That's a bit of an understatement.

At age 15, she co-founded The Supremes with Florence Ballard. Later adding Diana Ross as lead vocalist. 

From 1964 to 1969 the group charted 12 No. 1 pop hits, 16 top ten pop singles, and 19 top ten R&B 45s, making them the biggest act in Motown’s stable, and a pop culture force, arguably rivaled only by the Beatles.  

While much of the public viewed her as nothing more than a backup singer, a fact she acknowledged in a newspaper interview in 1986, she was far more than that. She was the group’s lynchpin. A steadying force that weathered the storm of Florence Ballard’s early death and a turbulent relationship with Ross.

Following the departure of Ross, the group had a shifting lineup through the early '70s, with Mary being the constant. That rock. 

The group finally disbanded in 1977 and Mary would go on to release two solo albums, tour as a solo act and publish a best-selling memoir detailing her relationship with Ross.

Wilson leaves behind her family, which includes 10 grandchildren and a great grandchild, millions of fans and legacy of music that changed the industry and set the standard for what a “girl group” could accomplish.

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