Supreme Talent — Mary Wilson brings holiday concert to Chicago
By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs Chicago Sun-Times December 19, 2013 12:42PM
Mary Wilson | GETTY IMAGES
Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular, The Four Tops, Dec. 23-Jan. 5, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. $59.99-$119.99. (312) 334-7777; HarrisTheaterChicago.org
Updated: December 19, 2013 12:53PM
Mary Wilson hasn’t taken a break in more than five decades. And she likes it that way.
“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped working,” says Wilson, the Motown princess who is spending the holidays in Chicago to support her “Holiday Spectacular” show at the Harris Theater. “When you find what you really love why would you stop?”
She was a young woman when she joined The Supremes along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard. Since then, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has since found that nostalgia concerts — or holiday events — are her bread and butter. After all, who wouldn’t sing along to “Can’t Hurry Love” or “Stop in the Name of Love”? Plus, for the Chicago show, she’ll be performing a duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with her former fiance, Duke Fakir, the last remaining original member of The Four Tops.
The “original” piece is important.
“There are lots of different issues we could talk about, but in terms of copyright and trademark and the name of the group? Those are big issues,” says Wilson, one of a group of stars who fought to introduce legislation to prevent imitators from performing in their name. “It’s like plagiarism but with music. These people can say they are tribute bands, but that’s it.”
She’s passionate about the legislation but understands it will take more enforcement before the imitators are caught. Meanwhile, she busies herself. She just completed “The Lena Horne Project,” a tribute and documentary. She’s been performing in Europe with Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. She released an album, “Up Close: Live from San Francisco,” and is working on another book that touches on life as a Supreme.
On Ross, she’s mum, but she does describe Motown with respect.
“I’m very proud to have been with Motown Records, even though I was one of the ones who spoke out about things going on. Things happened because we were young and did not have outside representation, but we were given a lot of great tools,” she says. “Record companies just weren’t giving artists a fair shake back in those days, but we were trained just like the Hollywood stars. Sometimes Mrs. Powell, who was our female mentor, said things like ‘You’re the diamond in the rough and we’re just here to polish you.’”
And though, for this interview, she’s at home in her Las Vegas compound, she isn’t still. She’s thinking about her upcoming Vegas show, and wondering which Chicago choir will accompany her for the Holiday Spectacular. She’s prepping to travel to Los Angeles to check on her other home. She riffles through papers and tries to remember her various Internet passwords.
It seems a number of her much-talked about projects are half-finished: the coffeetable book, the new album. But that’s ok. She’s “69 and a half” and a grandmother to eight, so she can take her time.
“We’re still selling out houses, we still get standing ovations even though I’m the last Top standing,” says Fakir, who lives in Detroit with his wife of 40 years but has fond memories of Chess Records in Chicago, when the Four Aims became the Four Tops in 1956.
For the legends, who have friends and family in the area, the city is a great place to spend the holidays.
“I was getting tired of hopping around every night,” says Fakir, whose 78th birthday is the day after Christmas and whose own group will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2014. “When I was young, growing up in my family I had to pick whether I wanted Christmas or my birthday. But now as I get older, I celebrate my birthday and Christmas.”
When the show is complete, Wilson will return to Vegas and plot her next steps. She still doesn’t want to sit still. Then again, maybe she does. “I probably need to slow it down,” says Wilson. “Sometimes if you don’t take time off, certain things come along to help you to do it. That’s the one thing about entertainers, especially those who perform on stage. We love what we do.”