Whitney Houston's last movie "Sparkle" will be released in August and tells the story of three sisters from Detroit and their pursuit of singing careers. The remake of the 1976 film and another project, the "Dreamgirls" movie and play, are based, to some extent, on the story of The Supremes.
The Supremes member Mary Wilson has mixed feelings about the works. "I think it's wonderful to be emulated and liked so much that people want to do that," she said during part two of an exclusive video interview with Yahoo! Music to celebrate Black Music Month. "And I got to say that I adore 'Dreamgirls.' And though (the original) 'Sparkle' was very good, in fact, they have the new one coming out with Whitney Houston and Jordin, she's wonderful, too. But the thing is, Why didn't they make a story out of my book? It's a real story. A true story.
"So even though I love 'Dreamgirls,' the thing is Why didn't they say this is about The Supremes? Maybe, they didn't want to pay someone? But they used all of our history, all of our legacy. They used it. It's hard because it was a beautiful project, a documentation of what was. If it wasn't about us, I would say, 'Yes it's great.' I can't say I hate it because I don't. But it's not fair because if I want to do a movie based on The Supremes, I couldn't do it because it's already been done."
Wilson did find one way to capitalize off of the 1981 "Dreamgirls" Broadway production. "I named my book 'Dreamgirl [My Life As A Supreme']' after I saw the play. Well, if they didn't pay me or Diane or anyone for using our images, then, I can probably use that name, and it was a best seller, too."
Mary Wilson (photo: Derick Tortorella)One of the roughest stages for The Supremes was the firing of Florence Ballard in 1967 during their dates at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. For Wilson, that signaled the end.
"The group was over when Florence left," Wilson said. "For me, the group was over. [Then] a lot of times recordings were being made, maybe if I was not there, they would go on and do it. And then, 'Well, OK. Nobody's on the there but Diane.' But not her fault, either. But I'm just saying, the machine was going, going on. For me it was the end when Florence left. Then, when Diane left it was totally over."
Ballard was originally the lead singer of the group. When the Motown executives made Ross the voice, the friction among the members ensued. A frustrated Ballard began drinking heavily, gaining weight and being disgruntled which ultimately lead to her termination.
Dealing with Ballard's departure was tough for Wilson." It's a little harder being in a girl group," she said. "Guys can be in a group and fight and come back and be buddies." Wilson said Ballard, who was abused as a child, struggled to deal with the group's problems.
The Supremes"Diane and I thought that fame would take care of it, unfortunately it did not," Wilson said. "What happened was everything that would happen in the group that was kinda negative or whatever, she couldn't handle that. That's when she started drinking. She couldn't cope with what was going on. It was a tough time for me."
Despite the revolving member changes in the group, Wilson said The Supremes were never able to capture their old chemistry. "I learned that after the original group it was never ever the same," she said. "The magic we had, the synergy was just so … it was like we must of played that before we came here."
Wilson said she was instrumental in calling for The Supremes to close shop in 1977. Though she was eager to move into the next phase of her career, she was nervous.
"I was totally scared," she said. "I was very afraid. But, at the same time, I love doing this. I can't stop because everyone else stopped. I know I don't have the same great voice like Diane or Jean [Terrell, who replaced Ross]. But, I enjoy performing, and I'm a great performer. I may not be a great singer, but I am a great performer."
Wilson said it was not easy establishing herself as a solo artist after The Supremes ended and she compares her plight to former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland.
"She's finding her niche, coming out of a group and is a beautiful individual," Wilson said about Rowland. "It's very difficult, but it can be done … You've got to really want to do that and that way it will work."
Like The Supremes became centered about Ross, Rowland's group Destiny's Child was headed by Beyonce. "Same as our situation," Wilson said. "No one thought I was going to be out there doing what I've done."
Though Wilson and Ross' differences have been discussed in the media over the years, Wilson said they do care about each other. "Being girls is not easy. Not easy to communicate and stay friends when you got your boyfriend, husband, the company. You got all these things coming at you. It's not the kind of thing that keeps you together. Our friendship kinda ended after. We were friends first. We went through all these great things together and then pretty soon it did whatever. But it was never animosity between us. We really, really love each other, still do. But maybe Diane and I are not close, but we still love each other. It's just she went her way and I had to go this way, and that's it."
Wilson is keeping busy. She has a new CD, "Life's Been Good To Me," that has reteamed her with Motown's famous Holland-Dozier-Holland camp. She's promoting the re-release of "The Supremes At The Copa" and she is starring in the tribute review, "Lena Horne Project."
Wilson hopes The Supremes are remembered for their accomplishments. "I think we were one of the greatest groups in terms of achieving certain things, certainly not in terms of voice, because The Pointer Sisters for me is my favorite group," she said. "We were just great friends. People forget that. We were great friends."
The Supremes are the spotlight group this month in Yahoo! Music's Best Soul Girl Groups Of All Time tribute for Black Music Month. A different act will be profiled everyday. The list includes African American women from a variety of genres — R&B, pop, gospel and rap — who were trailblazers and paved the way for those who followed.