One by one, they’re leaving us.
The talented musical stars who helped make the 1960s and 1970s so much fun are dying off – David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kanter and Maurice White, just over the past few weeks. They won’t easily be replaced.
That is one of the reasons why I made a point to see Mary Wilson in a rare visit to Western New York on Saturday night. The 71-year-old singer was a founding member of the Supremes, far and away the most popular female singing group of the ’60s. I wanted to see if Wilson could still re-create the sound of the Supremes, that snappy, bouncy, irresistible Motown sound that sent countless couples rushing to the dance floor back in the good old days.
I was also curious to hear how the Supremes’ songs would sound without the incomparable Diana Ross handling the lead vocals.
So, did Mary and her team of musicians and backup singers pull it off?
Yes, they did, and exuberant audience members, offered the chance to be a onetime Supreme, helped them pull it off.
Wilson put on a very enjoyable 90-minute performance Saturday night, in the inaugural show of the new Diamond Room, a Las Vegas-style showroom at Samuel’s Grande Manor in Clarence. It was a very nice start for the new venue.
No one is ever going to make Motown music fans forget the incomparable Diana Ross, the Supremes’ original lead singer, but Wilson, with her strong, soulful voice, put her own stamp on the group’s irresistible hit songs.
Looking glamorous in a glittering, Valentine-red, full-length gown, Wilson started off with “Love Child,” one of the most compelling Supremes’ songs, and never looked back.
Backed by singers Parnell Marcano and Lucy Shropshire, Wilson cranked out one Supremes hit after another, including “Stop In the Name of Love,” “Reflections,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Baby Love,” “Back In My Arms Again,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and more.
The place was packed with Motown fans and they were clearly enjoying it. At times, the music took you back to the amazing ’60s, a time when young people all over America couldn’t wait to turn on their transister radios and hear the latest catchy hit singles. It was also a time when Motown hitmakers like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations turned mainstream white America on to black music in a way no one else had done before.
Nobody at Motown did it any better than the Supremes, who had 20 Top Twenty hits – including a dozen No. 1 hits – over a period of six years.
Wilson will turn 72 next month, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member still puts energy and emotion into numbers she has probably performed thousands of times.
She also showed that there is more to her repertoire than the Motown hits. She drew big ovations with several emotional ballads, including soulful versions of the great Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful,” Sting’s exquisite “Fields of Gold” and a couple of songs from Dreamgirls, the Broadway play that was very loosely based on the Supremes’ life story.
But the concert really went into high gear when she invited people from the audience to step up onto the stage and become a temporary Supreme. About 15 people, women and men, took her up on it and had a blast, singing and dancing around like teenagers at a sock hop.
Wilson’s backup musicians – keyboard player/band director Mark Zier, and three local guys, bassist Nelson Starr, guitarist Dave Elder and drummer Mark Dixon – looked like they were enjoying it, too.
Toward the end of the show, Wilson seemed to summon her inner Tina Turner, delivering high-voltage versions of several rock songs, including “Brown Sugar” and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones.
During one of the prettiest Supremes’ songs, “Someday, We’ll Be Together,” she told the audience how much it meant to her that people still love all the Motown hits, many of them songs that were recorded more than a half-century ago.
“I’m so proud to be part of it,” she said with a wistful smile.