The Tragic Story Of The Woman Who Made Motown

Categories: Music

A new book called Mary Wells, The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar details the ups and downs of the sultry singer of "My Guy," "Two Lovers," and "You Beat Me To The Punch" as she went from fame back to obscurity.

Mary was Motown's first solo superstar, soaring on Smokey Robinson-penned tunes and helping build the label that in turn had nurtured her to stardom.

Her voice put the oomph into Motown's wowness.

The woman was huge.

But she was hardly remunerated as such, and was horrified to realize that.

As described by author Peter Benjaminson, the fame-drenched star re-examined the details of her contract--which she'd signed before she was 21--and learned that she was being charged for studio sessions, publicity, travel, phone expenses, costumes, and other costs.

All of that was being deducted from her royalties!

She also felt the label was under-reporting how many records she'd sold, so she was getting the short shrift in terms of gross potential.

The result had her making a pretty paltry amount for someone who was one of the top singing stars in the world and who'd toured with the Beatles.

So, all fired up with frustration and rage, the talented young thing left Motown.

With blinders on, she supposedly turned down an offer to co-own the company and also refused to try and re-negotiate her terms.

She simply bolted.

And that was just the beginning of her decline.

Mary couldn't catch much of a break after that, and years later, when Motown had that dazzling 25th anniversary TV special, she was given a fleeting 30-second cameo.

She died of cancer in 1992.

And I'm sure all this will be in Motown: The Musical!

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Saw her in 1987, singing at The Rose Tatoo, in WeHo. Sad. Her voice was gone, and there were probably only 25 drunk people in the club. But at least we gays were an enthusiastic audience. We made her feel welcome, and appreciated her. But she really was all but forgotten by that time. 


Michael - Thanks for reviewing my book, "Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar." Amazingly enough, there will be an actress playing Mary Wells in "Motown: The Musical." Whether the producers let her or other characters discuss the royalty structure at Motown remains to be seen. However, there's a lot else in the book: how Mary and Motown created the music she's famous for, her ups and down in the musical career she did indeed have post-Motown, her alleged kidnapping, and a gun fight she was involved in. There's also her picturesque personal life, which included her marriages, common-law or not, to two brothers in a row, that could be acted out or sung about (?) on stage. We shall see. Thanks again. Peter Benjaminson


In the immortal words/lyrics of Lorelle from Dreamgirls:



"The One Who Really Loves You" was my favorite. Mary was a Motown superstar before Diana, So were the Marvelettes.


Her voice absolutely drove me crazy. So haunting. Loved her!!!