In Memory of Mary Wilson: A Non-Review of We Are The Supremes—Friends That Change the World

We Are The Supremes—Friends That Change the World
Zoë Tucker, illustrated by Salini Perera
Wide Eyed Editions
January 12, 2021
Ages 5-8

Growing up in Metro Detroit, many a car ride started as a negotiation with my Dad. His radio was “stuck” on the golden oldies station, and we wanted to listen to—literally—anything else. Thanks to parental privilege, or poor negotiating skills, I had an early and frequent exposure to the Supremes. And it has taken quite a while for me to appreciate it.

I picked up Zoë Tucker and Salini Perera’s We Are The Supremes for a Black History Month book list. Just a week later, with the passing of Mary Wilson, I was distracted and plans changed. Their biography of the group begins when Wilson was a high school student on the east side of Detroit and just meeting aspiring singers Florence Ballard and Diana Ross. Tucker focuses on the girls’ friendship and perseverance in forming the Primettes (their original name), convincing Berry Gordy of Motown Records to sign them, and their rise to stardom against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Tucker leaves out, or glosses over, their difficult childhoods in the Brewster-Douglas Housing Project, most of the drama surrounding the coming and going of group members, and the racism they faced as black female musicians, but does include these themes in the back matter. The vibrant and graphic digital illustrations capture the 1950s aesthetic (saddle shoes and all) and follow them into the more glamorous 1960s look they are known for.

This high level look at the making of the Supremes might not have enough detail to work as a stand-alone title in the classroom, but would make an interesting addition to a Black History Month unit or an exploration of pop culture changing racial perceptions during the civil rights movement.

Looking for a deeper dive for YA and adult audiences? Or for more information on Mary Wilson’s activism and advocacy for the right of musicians to protect their names, songs, and reputations from being used without their consent (Truth in Music legislation). She also wrote several of her own books on her life and legacy: Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme; Supreme Faith: Someday We’ll Be Together; Supreme Glamour: The Inside Story of the Original Pop Fashionistas.

Thanks, Dad, for the introduction. And thank you, Mary Wilson, for keeping the Supremes alive for all of us.