Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremes and a legend in her own right, has died at the age of 76 in Las Vegas, NV.
I feel very fortunate to have met her, way back in the early 1990s. At the time, I was working for Frank Rio, a gruff, older music agent at the William Morris Agency who smoked cigars all day long and screamed at me to get people on the phone such as Rich Little, Dionne Warwick, Nell Carter, Donna Summer, The Smothers Brothers, and The Pointer Sisters. It was my first foray into the entertainment business, and I loved every ridiculous and stereotypical minute of it.
As a result of working for such a powerful agent, I ended up becoming very close with many of the artists’ managers who I dealt with on a daily basis. One such manager was Chip Lightman who counted Mary Wilson as one of his clients. Since both Rich Little and Mary Wilson were performing together as a double bill in Las Vegas, we all decided to go (and by “we” I mean me, Frank, Chip, and my now-ex-wife Joy).
I had a fabulous relationship with Rich Little at the time, so I really went to support him; Mary Wilson was his opening act and someone who I’d had no contact with prior to this trip.
That was all about to change.
For unbeknownst to me, Chip had secretly asked Mary to single me out during one song in her set where she pulled an audience member up onto the stage with her.
When Joy and I arrived at the theater, we were shown to a nice booth with a beautiful view of the stage. However, moments later, Chip came running up to us and said, “Dario, you’re too far away back here. Come on up and sit in the front!” Never one to turn down such a seat, I happily moved to a table that abutted the stage. I always liked to be front and center. And I was about to prove this true.
Having never seen Mary Wilson perform live before, I was quite taken with her; not only was her voice strong and supple, but her stage presence was masterful to witness. I was truly caught up in her magic. Next thing I know, she teases, “And now I need help from someone in the audience…” Her voice trailed off and she looked straight down at me. “You!” she said, pointing her finger at me. “Get up here, honey.” I quickly glanced at Joy to gauge her reaction, and she looked stricken with shock. That made me laugh because, as quiet as I can be, there’s nothing I want more than to be on stage.
So up I went, scrambling onto the stage to the band playing The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” Next thing I know, I’m slowly taking off my suit jacket as if I’m doing a strip tease, dropping it off the stage onto my wife’s lap before working on loosening up my tie. Once that’s off, I run over to the background singers and chirp “Brown sugar!” with them into the microphone like I’m a part of the band. And don’t get me started on the guitar solo because, well, I can only imagine what I looked like playing air guitar next to the stunned musician on stage. I looked HOT, okay?! I could hear the audience howling and clapping along, which only pushed me farther over the edge. By the end of the song, I had my arm around Mary and was singing into her mic, wailing “Yeah, yeah, yeah, wooo!” It was EPIC.
When the song ended, I received a standing ovation. I’m not even kidding. That’s when I started blushing and stumbling my way back off the stage and down to my seat. When the crowd finally settled down, Mary goes, “Well. My heavens. I was told that he was shy.” I couldn’t help but laugh along with everyone else. Chip had set me up since he thought I’d be mortified. Quite the opposite, as you now know.
After the show, both Mary and Rich Little gave me some good-natured ribbing about my “Brown Sugar” number. (Rich was in on the scheme too.) Mary was so sweet about it all, and I can still recall her glorious laugh.
I’ve always treasured this memory, and I shall truly miss her. Rest in Peace, Mary. I hope you’re shaking your booty to “Brown Sugar” up in heaven. 🙏 😇