April 3, 2017 Mary Wilson Of The Supremes Shines Suffolk Theater Riverhead, NY 4-1-17
Back in the early ’60s, the American Rock scene was in need of something new and fresh. Initially founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. as Tamla Records back in 1958, by 1960, Motown Records was born, and so was the dawn of a new era. Producing groups that provided Soul, R&B, and Pop sounds unique to others in popular music of the day, the label dominated the charts. At the forefront of the cultural movement was a female group out of a public housing project in Detroit, Michigan who would not only be the label’s leading act, but challenge for the most popular in the world. Initially calling themselves the Primettes, The Supremes were soon born and history was made.
A group of ladies which once was established as a foursome, historically, the world widely recognizes them as a trio, made up of the names Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson. This dynamic group of vocalists would go on to attain 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, become Rock and Roll Hall of Famers in 1988, and remain the most successful all-girl group to this day. In fact, during their prime, The Supremes rivalled only The Beatles as the most popular act in the world.
A part of musical history impossible to ignore, decades later, the songs still live, and with them the performers carry on. Among them is original founding member Mary Wilson, who has since written two best selling autobiographies, established a solo career, and all these years later continues to perform to crowds around the world.
Recently turning 73 years old on March 6th of 2017, the vital Wilson is in the midst of a spring tour which has found her visiting various cities around the USA. Amongst them, the township of Riverhead, New York popped up on the schedule on Saturday, April 1st. No April Fool’s joke, Wilson and her band promised a night of classic Supremes tunes, other favorites, and lasting memories at the beautiful Suffolk Theater on Main Street.
A venue known for its classic theater house decor along with the unique concert dining experience, fans of all ages filled the tables throughout the floor for dinner and drinks prior to showtime. Then, around 8:30 PM, Wilson’s band consisting of Vocalists Parnell Marcano and Lucy Shropshire, Keyboard Player/Band Director Mark Zier, Bassist Eugenio Perez, Guitarist Michael Ciro, as well as Drummer Yoron Israel soon took the stage.
Receiving a welcome round of applause, moments later, Wilson casually walked onto the stage dressed in an eye-catching purple sequin dress. Seemingly reserved upon first glimpse, Wilson started the set with a mellow, lounge-like rendition of Phyllis Molinary’s “Here’s To Life.” Then, taking the entire room by surprise, the energy immediately picked up as Wilson and company went into one Supremes’ favorite after another, starting with 1968’s “Love Child,” 1965’s “My World Is Empty Without You,” and 1968’s “Reflections.”
A quick a shot of excitement, Wilson took a brief moment to address the crowd, reflecting on memories past and all the wonderful times she experienced with The Supremes. Making everyone feel at home, she soon rolled into “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Come See About Me,” and “Back in My Arms Again.” Impossible not to sing along or even get up and want to dance, Wilson continued to be personable with the audience talking about her own life, mentioning she has eight grandchildren. Remaining topical, Wilson alluded to the recent presidential election, and without ruffling any feathers, merely said no matter who one voted for, they should always smile as expressed in the song by the same name.
Showing her voice is still very strong, Wilson sang affectionately as she connected with the audience, moving around the stage. Working in some more modern tracks, she even performed the 2002 Norah Jones hit “Don’t Know Why” before the classic “You Are So Beautiful.” The latter a track written and originally recorded by Billy Preston, its most recognized version is that of the late Joe Cocker, and Wilson did an exceptional job of capturing all the emotion of the lyrics.
Mixing up the mood here and there, Wilson soon offered a lively version of Moon Martin’s “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” before enticing the audience to get out of their seats and come to the front of the stage to dance as she returned to Supremes’ classics such as “Baby Love,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love” with one hand on her hip and the other outstretched in a legendary “stop” gesture. Having many of the ladies in the audience following along, it was a blast from the past as everyone cheered for more.
Wilson, feeding off the positivity flowing through the room, went directly into “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” which resulted in more dancing and singing along from patrons. Then, taking a moment to remember her friend, Florence Ballard, Wilson expressed sincere feelings of the lost Supreme. Over forty years since Ballard’s untimely death, Wilson honored her by singing Effie White’s “I Am Changing,” a song inspired by Ballard. A heartfelt moment, Wilson continued to display a powerful, soulful singing voice that did not waver.
At this point, having changed into a red sequin dress with a thigh-high slit, the classy Wilson showed no sign of fatigue as she kept her enthusiasm moving about the stage, singing, and conversing with the audience. Confessing it took a while before finally launching a solo career, without getting into the gorey details, Wilson gracefully summed up her feelings as she went into her 1992 song “Walk The Line.” While not a commercially successful track at the time, it remains an important part of Wilson’s history as an artist and is a delightful treat to hear live.
Presenting her final Supremes’ song of the night, “Someday We’ll Be Together,” Wilson soon jolted into The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and “Brown Sugar.” For the latter, Wilson provided a ton of flair and passion as she cleverly altered the lyrics of “just like a black girl should” to “just like you knew I would.” With the set quickly coming to a close, Wilson expressed a great deal of gratitude to the audience for their support, and judging by her contagious smile, she was speaking from the heart. This was before a fitting finale as she went into Donna Summer’s 1978 hit “Last Dance” as nearly everyone was on their feet cheering loudly, bidding goodnight to Wilson and company.
A key member of what made The Supremes’ special, Wilson did a fantastic job of honoring the songs everyone knows and loves. Looking tremendous at 73, Wilson’s voice was the true highlight of the night. It is one thing to still be able to hold a note, but it is another to show the passion and heart that Wilson does while on stage. A legendary, strong woman who has fought for everything she has since she was a young girl, she truly is one of America’s original Dreamgirls.